At this point in the pandemic, most media attention regarding COVID-19 infections has focused on three different possibilities for individual patients: the immediately life-threatening version in which a person may require care in an ICU and a ventilator; a very “mild” form which resolves within two weeks; and the SARS-CoV-2 carrier who has no signs or symptoms. In the article, COVID-19 Can Last for Several Months, Ed Yong of The Atlantic explores a fourth possible presentation of this disease that is both chronic and debilitating and which has thus far been getting little attention. 

According to Yong, thousands of people are now participating in online groups created to support those experiencing varied and variable symptoms including poor concentration, post-exertional fatigue, shortness of breath (with normal blood oxygenation), heart palpitations, and various neurological symptoms.

One wellness group informally surveyed 640 of their online group of “long-haulers” (as some call themselves). They found:

… about three in five are between the ages of 30 and 49. About 56 percent have not been hospitalized, while another 38 percent have visited the ER but were not admitted. About a quarter have tested positive for COVID-19 and almost half have never been tested at all. Some became sick in mid-March, when their home countries were severely short on tests. (Most survey respondents live in the U.S. and the U.K.) Others were denied testing because their symptoms didn’t match the standard set.

Juniper Martin, ND practices as a primary care provider in Portland, OR. Some of her patients match this “long-hauler” profile. In her relatively small practice of 1000 active patients, 20 have either been diagnosed with COVID-19 or presumed COVID-19 since mid-March. None of her patients required hospitalizations, but 10 of those 20 are still experiencing waxing and waning symptoms, the most notable being intermittent fevers, headaches, post-exertional fatigue, shortness of breath, and brain fog. Dr. Martin has noted how much these symptoms match those of her patients who’ve been previously diagnosed with post-viral syndrome, autonomic dysfunction and/or ME/CFS.

There is some probability that occasionally people are attributing their symptoms to SARS-CoV-2 in error. This is something Dr. Martin is sure to talk through with her own patients. People are extra aware of changes in their bodies and what with the pervasive extra stress that comes with a pandemic, it can be hard to tease apart what is happening. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should receive a full work-up in order to explore/rule out other possible causes. Along with that, however, as Yong notes in his article, there is a tendency by many practitioners to be dismissive of these sequelae and to leave a patient feeling unheard and gaslighted.  It is of utmost importance that healthcare practitioners consider COVID-19 as a possible cause for prolonged and debilitating symptoms, and that patients be supported throughout their recovery, rather than dismissed. 

Yong’s final few sentences sum it up: “…health and sickness are not binary. That medicine is as much about listening to patients’ subjective experiences as it is about analyzing their organs. That being a survivor is something you must also survive.”

(Featured photo by Ivan Oboleninov from Pexels)

At this point in the pandemic, most media attention regarding COVID-19 infections has focused on three different possibilities for individual patients: the immediately life-threatening version in which a person may require care in an ICU and a ventilator; a very “mild” form which resolves within two weeks; and the SARS-CoV-2 carrier who has no signs or symptoms. In the article, COVID-19 Can Last for Several Months, Ed Yong of The Atlantic explores a fourth possible presentation of this disease that is both chronic and debilitating and which has thus far been getting little attention. 

According to Yong, thousands of people are now participating in online groups created to support those experiencing varied and variable symptoms including poor concentration, post-exertional fatigue, shortness of breath (with normal blood oxygenation), heart palpitations, and various neurological symptoms.

One wellness group informally surveyed 640 of their online group of “long-haulers” (as some call themselves). They found:

… about three in five are between the ages of 30 and 49. About 56 percent have not been hospitalized, while another 38 percent have visited the ER but were not admitted. About a quarter have tested positive for COVID-19 and almost half have never been tested at all. Some became sick in mid-March, when their home countries were severely short on tests. (Most survey respondents live in the U.S. and the U.K.) Others were denied testing because their symptoms didn’t match the standard set.

Juniper Martin, ND practices as a primary care provider in Portland, OR. Some of her patients match this “long-hauler” profile. In her relatively small practice of 1000 active patients, 20 have either been diagnosed with COVID-19 or presumed COVID-19 since mid-March. None of her patients required hospitalizations, but 10 of those 20 are still experiencing waxing and waning symptoms, the most notable being intermittent fevers, headaches, post-exertional fatigue, shortness of breath, and brain fog. Dr. Martin has noted how much these symptoms match those of her patients who’ve been previously diagnosed with post-viral syndrome, autonomic dysfunction and/or ME/CFS.

There is some probability that occasionally people are attributing their symptoms to SARS-CoV-2 in error. This is something Dr. Martin is sure to talk through with her own patients. People are extra aware of changes in their bodies and what with the pervasive extra stress that comes with a pandemic, it can be hard to tease apart what is happening. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should receive a full work-up in order to explore/rule out other possible causes. Along with that, however, as Yong notes in his article, there is a tendency by many practitioners to be dismissive of these sequelae and to leave a patient feeling unheard and gaslighted.  It is of utmost importance that healthcare practitioners consider COVID-19 as a possible cause for prolonged and debilitating symptoms, and that patients be supported throughout their recovery, rather than dismissed. 

Yong’s final few sentences sum it up: “…health and sickness are not binary. That medicine is as much about listening to patients’ subjective experiences as it is about analyzing their organs. That being a survivor is something you must also survive.”

(Featured photo by Ivan Oboleninov from Pexels)

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE: 

  • Remember that this is still a new virus, and that there’s much we still don’t know about it. 
  • Even if you are young and healthy, don’t be complacent about developing COVID-19. This isn’t to promote fear, but to encourage adequate consideration of risks.
  • Particularly if you are a healthcare provider, be informed of the potential presentations of this new virus and do not dismiss patients’ concerns.

BLOG POST AUTHORS

Juniper Martin, ND lives and practices in Portland, OR. She is a founding member of the Naturopathic Alliance.

Cindy Beernink, ND, M.Ed. lives and works in Toronto, ON. She is also a founding member of the Naturopathic Alliance.