When most of us think about COVID-19 symptoms, fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and loss of sense of smell or taste come to mind. However, for many people who are experiencing prolonged symptoms of the virus—aka “long haulers”—those are the least of their worries. A new profile courtesy of CNN takes a deep dive into some of the more complicated cases being reported, in which people suffer serious complications for months after the virus is gone. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
A non-peer reviewed paper courtesy of researchers from the Academic Respiratory Unit of the North Bristol NHS Trust in the UK found that 74% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 could become long haulers. Additional research from The British Medical Journal estimated that 10% of people who test positive for the virus could develop prolonged illness.
The BMJ cites “weak or absent antibody response, relapse or reinfection, inflammatory and other immune reactions, deconditioning, and mental factors such as post-traumatic stress” as contributing to longer-term symptoms, which go beyond the usual cough and shortness of breath most commonly associated with the virus.
Dysautonomia is a condition defined by a miscommunication between the autonomic nervous system and the rest of the body. Some experts believe it may explain COVID long hauler symptoms. In other words, the symptoms may have less to do with heart and lung damage, and instead, a neurological dysfunction unleashed by the virus.
Noah Greenspan, a New York-based physical therapist and founder of the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation, urges his patients to get a full workup from their physician to rule out a cardiac condition, stroke or pulmonary embolism before starting physical therapy. While some patients’ symptoms are mild and are able to endure a more traditional rehab plan, “there are others, which are turning into the biggest group of people, which are these long haulers.”
CNN explains that the “autonomic nervous system regulates automatic body functions such as breathing, sleep and digestion. When it’s not working, symptoms can present in myriad different ways, depending on the person.”
“Reach into a bag of symptoms and pull out a bag of symptoms, and that’s what they have for the day,” Greenspan said. “It’s a twisted ball of yarn and takes a week to unravel one string.”
Other signs of dysautonomia reported by patients include migraines, numbness in her feet and hands, sensory overload, and “storms,” disabling periods of shortness of breath, numbness in her hands and feet and increased heart rate, as reported by Lucy Gahan a clinical psychologist in Shrewsbury, United Kingdom, who hasn’t been able to return to work since her initial infection.
Shortness of breath and cardiovascular problems are not the most common complaint of these patients. Some long haul patients are experiencing postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, defined by a “sharp rise in heart rate that occurs when moving from a reclining to standing position.” Due to the gravity pull, blood pools in the legs. In general, the condition can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting.
“Their heart rate goes up 50 to 75 points if they get up to get water,” Greenspan said. “They have fast heart rates that don’t have anything to do with what they’re actually doing, that are not commensurate with their workload.”
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According to the BMJ and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, a number of coronavirus sufferers are experiencing neurological symptoms consistent with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. To be diagnosed, patients need to have experienced six months of symptoms. Due to the virus being so new, many people haven’t reached the benchmark as of yet, but some have.
One long hauler patient, Corey Coopersmith, a 36-year-old fitness consultant in Las Vegas, reveals that while his lung function is “amazing” he has “abnormally low function of immune cells, including T cells and B cells.” When his results came back, an immunologist compared it to “someone about to get AIDS.” Coopersmith claims his resting heart rate has dramatically increased, from around 58 beats a minute prior to contracting the virus to around 200. At night he is forced to use a continuous positive airway pressure machine in order to push oxygen to his lungs. “I lie there gasping for air, fighting for life,” he said.
As for yourself, do everything you can to not catch—or spread—coronavirus: wear a mask, social distance, avoid crowds and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.