LONG-Covid: What it is and what it’s not

By now, most of us have read about the long-term effects the coronavirus is having on a subset of the population, mostly 20 to 40-year-old females after relatively mild cases of COVID-19. 

These long term effects can almost all be categorized under the umbrella term, “dysautonomia,” or the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. This is a set of complex disorders that most typically affect women, and now we are seeing it on a large scale due to the virus. At CFNC, we have seen dysautonomias being triggered after viral infections, pregnancy and head injuries, and now it is being brought to the attention of many as it is affecting this post-COVID population on a very large scale. 

“If this is something that happens to a lot of people, we’re in trouble,” she remembers thinking, “because most doctors don’t recognize dysautonomia as a real entity.”

Amy Kontorovich, genetic cardiologist at Mount Sinai, The Atlantic

Doctors all over the country are beginning to recognize the devastating effects that dysautonomias have on people’s lives. If you are suffering from the following symptoms after contracting the covid-19 virus, even in mild cases, do not hesitate to seek help, do not let physicians tell you this is all in your head or due to stress and anxiety. The following symptoms are most commonly seen with dysautonomia:

  1. Debilitating fatigue
  2. Pain
  3. Tachycardia
  4. Shortness of breath
  5. “Exercise” intolerance
  6. Dizziness
  7. Syncope
  8. Blood pooling
  9. Digestive problems
  10. Brain fog

The majority of patients who suffer from these symptoms after COVID-19 are meeting the criteria for a specific dysautonomia condition called POTS or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. As Dr. Kontorovich stated in an interview with the Atlantic, the problem is that many do not recognize POTS as an illness. Many patients are sent home from the ER with a diagnosis of anxiety and told to manage their stress. 

Many are stumped by this effect and how a virus could be causing these debilitating symptoms, but those who are familiar with these conditions know that the immune system and the nervous system are intricately connected through what most are now referring to as the “extended autonomic nervous system”. For more information, please read our blog post on this topic

We have made it our mission to share as much information as possible on this topic. On average, it takes 5 years for someone with dysautonomia to find a provider that is familiar with the condition and to receive a formal diagnosis, for many it takes much longer. We hope that the silver lining to the increased post-covid dysautonomia cases is that many will find help sooner than they ever could before. We hope that more doctors will understand that these conditions are real and very debilitating and that patients need help navigating the complex world of dysautonomia. 

If you are have dysautonomia, here are a few things you can do at home to help: 

  1. Increase electrolytes and salt intake
  2. Wear compression socks
  3. Drink lots and lots of water 
  4. “Exercise” in short amounts 
    1. Exercising in short amounts consistently is much better than doing a long, intense exercise regimen where you may crash for days after
    2. We find exercise to be particularly hard for many dysautonomia patients because they want to do the exercises they are used to doing but need to find a new routine. It may be just a 5 minute walk to start and then you can build up your stamina – with consistency!
    3. Do not increase the duration and intensity of your exercise at the same time. Choose one or the other and remember, this is a marathon not a sprint
    4. Do not exercise to the point of symptoms, you want to fly under the radar of anything that increases your symptoms either during or after. Once you have found the sweet spot for you, continue for a couple weeks at this same duration and intensity and then try to increase slowly. REMEMBER, consistency is key and the duration/ intensity is not as important.
    5. Just keep moving at your own pace!
  5. Find a specific rehabilitation program that fits your needs

Click here to learn more about dysautonomia and CFNC’s dysautonomia program. Our doctors are always happy to help and provide complimentary consultations to ensure all of your needs are met right from the first phone call.