What is Long COVID?
Long COVID is defined as persistent symptoms 3 months after an initial Covid-19 infection.
It is currently estimated that 1.7 million people living in the UK are experiencing self-reported COVID symptoms (as of 5th March 2022).
Those who reported Long COVID was highest in people aged 35-49 years, female’s, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, teaching and education or health care, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.
Currently, the risk factors for experiencing long Covid are multifactorial and are independent of the severity of your Covid infection (hospitalised or not hospitalised).
Symptoms vary between individuals however, fatigue continued to be the most common symptom reported in those with long COVID (51%), followed by shortness of breath (34%), loss of smell (28%) and muscle ache (24%).
Underlying risk factors
There is no one underlying cause of Long COVID however, we are starting to see a pattern of people presenting themselves with symptoms of Long COVID also presenting with one or more of the below -
• Pre-existing autoimmune disorder – either themselves or family history
• Previous injuries to their immune system – infectious disease
• Gut microbiome dysbiosis
Symptom presentation in Long COVID
Covid is a viral respiratory disease and therefore, during the first wave it was thought the virus was going to do permanent damage to the lung and heart. However in the first wave what we actually saw was that 1/3 of people reported neurological symptoms and gut health symptoms with a positive COVID test.
For example, one of the reported symptoms of Covid was a loss of smell and taste which is coming from the cranial nerves, suggesting there has been some neurological damage.
Additionally, most of the lung complications we saw cleared up once the infection left however, the neurological problems did not clear (including fatigue, brain fog, personality changes, concentration problems, head pressure and migraine pains), suggesting COVID causes long term neurological damage.
In those presenting with long COVID we see two critical changes -
- Brain inflammation
- Ongoing immune dysfunction/exhaustion
Drawing from other infectious illnesses
We have been able to draw upon research from other conditions to understand more about COVID and Long COVID.
A bacterial infection that causes similar symptoms and findings on a PET scan* is Lyme disease. Gut dysbiosis is also seen in patients with Lyme disease as well as Long covid.
When performing a PET scan on those with Long COVID we see that certain areas of the brain light up, indicating ongoing inflammation. We also see persistence abnormalities in lymphocytes (autoimmune markers) suggesting long term damage to the immune system.
Using a combination of multivitamins, probiotics, CoQ10, N-Acetylcysteine, NADH, and herbs has been proving helpful in those with Long COVID.
Read more about the use of supplements here for Long COVID.
*A brain positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that allows doctors to see how your brain is functioning
Ons.gov.uk. 2022. Prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the UK - Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/6may2022#:~:text=Of%20people%20with%20self%2Dreported,at%20least%20two%20years%20previously.> [Accessed 24 May 2022].