Three years into the pandemic, COVID is still an unfortunate reality in our lives. Many of us have also been dealing with long COVID. The various health issues caused by the condition can linger long after a person has tested negative, and while we understand more about it than we did in 2020, we’re still learning. Case in point: A recent study published in JAMA, which looked at over one million long COVID cases across 22 countries, found that long COVID is more common in women than men. Additionally, a CDC survey revealed that the majority of people suffering from post-COVID symptoms report difficulties in performing daily activities as a result. Below, we look at the facts of long COVID and potential treatment methods.
What does the autonomic nervous system have to do with long COVID?
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the nerve network that regulates many body of our processes that happen involuntarily, including heartbeat, blood flow, breathing, and digestion. A Stanford University review suggests that imbalances in the ANS are a top reason health problems from long COVID can drag on. Says Norman Gaylis, MD, who treats long-haul COVID patients at Arthritis & Rheumatic Disease Specialties in Aventura, Florida, “The ANS is made up of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, which are supposed to work together to regulate body processes like heart rate.”
How is long COVID diagnosed and treated?
Inflammation produced by COVID can cause an imbalance between the two systems that triggers fatigue, brain fog, and anxiety, says Dr. Gaylis. Because there are no tests to diagnose or predict long-lasting COVID, doctors do so based on symptoms that last three or more months. Many doctors prescribe medication or supplements, and there may even be ways to ease the burden without new prescriptions. A DePaul University review speculated that practicing mindfulness meditation could ease certain symptoms and reset the ANS, although further research is needed.
Could Paxlovid help?
The antiviral medication Paxlovid is often prescribed to patients after a COVID diagnosis to speed up the healing process, and recent research suggests the pills may also lessen the risk of lingering symptoms. A VA Saint Louis Health Care System study showed that taking Paxlovid within five days of a first positive COVID test may have the additional benefit of lowering the risk of developing post-infection complications. (That includes cardiovascular issues, fatigue, liver and kidney disease, muscle pain, neurocognitive impairment, and shortness of breath, among others.) While the results of the study seem promising, further research is in development and pending peer review. Still, it appears that Paxlovid may combat “leftover” COVID virus that could persist in the body after recovering from an initial infection, making it a promising option.
Could an ANS glitch be causing post-COVID fatigue?
Have you been dealing with symptoms even though your test is negative? If you experience persistent fatigue and any of the following symptoms for three months or more after a COVID infection, an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system may be the culprit.
- Shortness of breath
- Foggy thinking
- Blue moods
- Muscle or joint pain
- Loss of taste/smell
If you find that these symptoms are impacting your life, share your concerns with your healthcare provider. While much about the long-term impacts of COVID remains unknown, and symptoms and severity can vary greatly from one person to the next, the research continues and further potential treatments are likely to emerge.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.