Written by Courtney Coleman, Edited by LisaMichelle Pecaro
The emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 disease, is the subject of much interest as researchers continue to investigate the various impacts of this disease and work towards effective solutions for the current global pandemic. Over the course of the last year, it has become apparent that, while most patients who contract COVID-19 fully recover, there are still others who suffer from long-term side effects leading to a variety of persistent symptoms, and researchers are currently working to unravel the reasons behind why this is occurring.
Termed COVID long-haulers, these patients are defined as those who experience an assortment of symptoms affecting various organ systems that continue for weeks, or even months, following infection with COVID-19. Earlier reports indicated that between 50% to 80% of patients who contracted COVID-19 developed these complications; however, other research has reported numbers as low as 10%. Symptoms can arise in anyone who has been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including those who experienced mild or asymptomatic cases, with patients reporting a combination of symptoms, such as fatigue, exercise intolerance, trouble concentrating, dyspnea, and palpitations, to name a few. Some patients experience their symptoms on a continuous basis, while others recover for a few weeks, and then experience a relapse of previous symptoms, or the development of new ones; however, all patients experience these symptoms at a level that significantly impairs their quality of life.
Various theories have been proposed as to what specific illness, or illnesses, these patients could be experiencing, with some reporting Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a form of dysautonomia that causes, as the name implies, tachycardia upon standing, dizziness, brain fog, and fatigue, to name a few symptoms; others have suggested Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a complex, disabling illness where the patient is unable to function due to severe fatigue, trouble concentrating, and a variety of other symptoms; and still others report the possibility of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), a complicated, multisystem disorder defined as the inappropriate activation of mast cells that results in a variety of chronic, severe allergic symptoms and reactions. These disorders are just a few of those hypothesized, with the National Institute of Health (NIH) using the term post-acute sequelae of SARS-COV-2 infection (PASC) to collectively refer to the symptoms experienced by post-COVID long haulers.
Due to the multifaceted nature, as well as the many unknowns, associated with the symptoms experienced by post-COVID long haulers, therapeutics are often focused on relieving symptoms by utilizing treatments that have been successful in conditions with similar presentations, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cardiac conditions, and concussions. There have also been recent reports from the Survivor Corps, a large COVID-19 patient community, stating that 36% of the 400 surveyed post-COVID long-haulers experienced an improvement in their symptoms following COVID-19 vaccination. The mechanisms behind this improvement are still under investigation; however, it is hypothesized that the vaccine may aid in the clearance of any remnants of the virus, halt an inappropriate immune response, or act as a way of resetting the immune system. While much more research is needed to discover the reasons behind the symptoms experienced by long-haulers, and the development of appropriate treatments, progress has been made with the several treatment centers that have opened in the United States for specialized care, and the numerous studies that are currently in progress.
If you believe that you may be a post-COVID long-hauler, please contact your primary care physician, or visit www.survivorcorps.com/pccc to find a post-COVID care center near you.
Results from ongoing research and the current understanding of COVID-19 are constantly evolving. This post contains information that was last updated on April 24th, 2021.