Even after more than two years and hundreds of millions of cases, our understanding of COVID is still in its infancy. We have learned that there are models for determining who is most susceptible to disease severity, but there is also a lot of unpredictability. And the same turns out to be true for those suffering from post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 aka long-haul COVID aka long-haul COVID.
The cause of long COVID — defined as symptoms that persist for weeks or months after recovery from the initial infection — is still not fully understood. While most people think of COVID as a lung infection virus, it can also damage other organs, including the gastrointestinal tract, heart, kidneys, and brain. The combination of organ damage and persistent inflammation, along with an immune system that remains activated, can cause a wide variety of debilitating symptoms.
More than 500 million people worldwide have had COVID, and nearly half are estimated to still be suffering from symptoms four months after infection. That’s a mind-boggling statistic, but it also means a tremendous amount of learning, and that learning happens quickly.
In my practice as a Culinary Health Coach, I’ve had several clients who have gone through long COVID symptoms and come out the other side. The best results required a combination of rest, good nutrition, breathing exercises, medications or supplements, and/or treatment by a variety of doctors.
More than a few of my clients have praised the merits of acupuncture for accelerated recovery, which led me to a conversation with Barbara Gosse, MSOM, Dilpl.Ac., L.Ac., professor and practitioner of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at Northwestern University of Health Sciences.
A constellation of symptoms
Gosse defines long COVID as a constellation of symptoms that persist after recovering from an initial coronavirus infection. In practice, long COVID tends to show up as a combination of shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, heart problems, PTSD (about reinfection/reliving illness), and/or brain fog. Symptoms may also include loss of taste and/or smell, headache, dizziness, and stomach problems.
The long COVID tends to affect women more than men, and Gosse noticed the most persistent symptoms in those who had high fevers and more severe COVID illness, with the most severe and long-lasting symptoms experienced by women. immunocompromised patients.
When I ask her about acupuncture during a long period of COVID, she says, “It depends on the patient and their symptoms. We begin with a review of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) systems, a review and the 10 TCM questions that range from fever or chills to pain, sleep and appetite.
After discussing the main concerns and medical history, she makes a Chinese medicine diagnosis and creates a personalized treatment plan. “In TCM, we have many tools in our toolkit for treatment, and treatment is very individualized, so while a treatment plan may include acupuncture, it may also include herbal medicine, dietary intervention , cupping, gua sha and/or breathing exercises like well,” she says.
But how does a patient know that the treatment is working? “I like to see improvement in 1-2 weeks [being treated once per week] although many patients see immediate improvement,” she says. “If patients don’t improve within that timeframe, it requires reassessment, a new strategy, and possibly a referral.”
things of the heart
Gosse gives the example of a patient who presented with fatigue and shortness of breath on exertion. When the patient returned with chest pain, he was referred and ended up having coronary bypass surgery. “We’ve noticed in clinical practice that COVID can accelerate existing heart disease, that’s definitely something long haulers need to be aware of.”
Gosse says early improvements to look for with treatment include increased energy, greater mental clarity and improved anxiety (especially when returning to social gatherings). She explains, “So many of my patients experience anxiety about re-infection and going through it all again, and rightly so. But this anxiety is also a symptom of the disease, and when the internal system is working properly, better relaxation and restoration lead to less anxiety in general.
Increasing the odds of preventing (and curing) any disease is always based on good overall health hygiene and COVID is no different. It’s no surprise that Gosse advocates a consistent daily balance: foods that are compatible with your body, the right amount of sleep, daily exercise, fresh air, and work/life balance all contribute to resilience.
“Find ways to make healthy food enjoyable and exercise in a way that isn’t all or nothing. Take time to rest. It sounds so basic but consistency is really, really powerful. And if you’re suffering from long COVID symptoms, don’t force yourself while you recover. If your symptoms persist, seek treatment and a collaborative approach with a practitioner you trust.
Located in Bloomington, Northwestern University of Health Sciences is a premier integrative health institution that prepares the next generation of health professionals to deliver and advance health care, offering 11 areas of study. Its clinics and TruNorth Wellness Hub are open to the public to support better, healthier lives for all. The Bloomington Clinic specializes in care for the whole family, offering chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, nutrition and cupping. Swere Clinic offers comprehensive care for complex pain conditions and trauma. The biomechanics laboratory and the human performance centerr support proper movement and recovery through gait analysis, rehabilitation, strength and conditioning.
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