Long-Haul COVID: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
- Chronic Post COVID-19 Syndrome (CPCS)
- Chronic COVID
- Post-Acute COVID-19
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS)
- Post-Infectious Fatigue
Symptoms of Long-Haul COVID
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Post-exertional malaise (symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities)
- Brain fog
- Chest or stomach pain
- Heart palpitations
- Joint or muscle pain
- Pins-and-needles feeling
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness on standing
- Mood changes
- Change in smell or taste
- Changes in menstrual period cycles
Causes and Risk Factors of Long-Haul COVID
Some people who contract COVID-19 suffer from organ damage to the lungs, heart, or brain which can result in long-term symptoms that may be labeled as long-haul COVID.
There is a second group of people, however, who suffer from long-haul symptoms despite having no organ damage. There is growing evidence that in this second group of people, long haul symptoms may be due to neurological trauma.
Long-haul COVID tends to occur when a person becomes infected with the virus while their chronic stress load is already high. Let’s say, for example, you contract COVID-19 when you’re going through a divorce or experiencing high stress at work. The combination of stressors essentially overwhelms your brain and changes the circuitry in a part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is not only involved in your behavioral and emotional responses, but it also drives your primal fight/flight/freeze response.
When the limbic system becomes impaired in this way, its protective mechanisms fire more rapidly and inappropriately. It continuously sends out alarm signals that stimulate the nervous system and immune system, even when the viral threat is long gone. These faulty neural pathways ultimately become conditioned, meaning they get stuck in an unconscious loop that perpetuates itself.
In simpler terms, the immune system and nervous system of a person with long-haul COVID gets stuck in high gear and continues to stay on high alert after the initial infection. The continuous stimulation of these systems is likely the root cause of long-haul COVID symptoms.
COVID-19 isn’t the only virus that can cause long-haul symptoms. The scientific community has known for decades that many viruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus, and SARS, can trigger what is known as post-viral syndrome, or post-viral fatigue. Long-haul COVID is a type of post-viral syndrome, both of which are related to another limbic system condition called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Researchers are now recognizing the connection between long-haul COVID and ME/CFS, which is promoting new research into chronic fatigue syndrome.
Long-haul COVID can affect people of all ages, although middle-aged women ages 40 to 60 have been shown to be more likely to experience long-haul symptoms. Other risk factors that may make one more likely to develop long-haul COVID after contracting the virus include:
- Having a high chronic stress load prior to contracting the virus
- Having experienced trauma prior to contracting the virus
- Experiencing a severe viral infection (although some people who experience a mild viral illness also develop post-viral fatigue)
How Long-Haul COVID is Diagnosed
It’s important to note that long-haulers rarely continue to test positive for an active COVID-19 infection, yet continue to experience a constellation of symptoms.
There’s no specific test to diagnose long-haul COVID and, as such, a diagnosis is typically made based on a patient’s history and symptomatology. A medical professional will begin the diagnostic process by assessing your symptoms, taking your medical history, and performing a physical exam. Blood tests will also be run to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.
Long-haul COVID-19 will likely be diagnosed if:
- You had a known COVID-19 infection
- Your symptoms appeared following a COVID-19 infection
- Other medical conditions are ruled out
- Your symptoms reflect those of long-haul COVID
- Your symptoms don’t abate despite rest and self-care
How Long-Haul is Treated
At this time, long-haul COVID isn’t fully understood in the medical community and there aren’t any precise treatment protocols offered through mainstream medicine. As such, treatment typically focuses on managing symptoms and supporting the body in the hope that it will recover on its own. However, many people who recovered from the acute phase of COVID without organ damage are reporting success in resolving their long-haul symptoms by retraining their brains.
Before we delve into how to treat long-haul COVID from a neurological perspective, let’s discuss common traditional and alternative treatment options and the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Practicing at-home self-care
The most commonly suggested treatment for long-haul COVID is at-home self-care, including sleeping 7-9 hours a night, taking naps, conserving energy, drinking plenty of water, and eating a healthy diet. This method is aimed at conserving energy and supporting the body so that it can recover.
While it’s always good to take good care of yourself, at-home self-care typically isn’t enough to resolve long-haul COVID symptoms. This is because it ultimately doesn’t address the root cause of the condition, which is an impairment in the limbic system.
Diet & detoxification
Some medical practitioners, especially naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, and integrative medicine doctors, will suggest a certain diet or detoxification protocol aimed at lowering a patient’s viral load. This treatment method is based on the theory that the COVID-19 virus remains in the body, causing long-haul symptoms.
Individuals may see some improvement in their symptoms through detoxification, likely due to a reduction in inflammation, however, most people aren’t able to fully resolve their symptoms via this route. This is because a latent virus isn’t the root cause of the symptoms. Rather, it’s dysfunction in the brain’s threat defense control center (the limbic system).
How We Approach Long-Haul COVID
How to Live and Cope with Long-Haul COVID
Frequently Asked Questions
A Final Word from re-origin
Long-haul COVID has taken the world by storm, creating a public health crisis on top of an already devastating pandemic. It can be extremely difficult to continue feeling unwell after a COVID-19 infection, especially when you expect to make a quick recovery and return to normal life.
It’s important to understand, however, that the development of this condition was not your fault. The symptoms you’re experiencing are being perpetuated by a feedback loop in the brain. re-origin’s team of neuroscientists and psychologists have extensively studied this loop and how to break it, and have packaged that information into an easy-to-apply program that can help you reclaim your life. With our proprietary neuroplasticity training, you can learn to undo the underlying cause of long-haul COVID, putting an end to the symptoms you’re experiencing once and for all. You can learn more about our neuroplasticity training with a free trial at re-origin.com/neuroplasticity-training-program/.
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