Long-Haul COVID: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Ben

Published on

January 18, 2024

Updated on

January 18, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Ben

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Most people that contract COVID-19 recover completely within a few weeks. About 36 percent of people[1] who get the illness, however, continue to experience persistent or recurring symptoms weeks or months after clearing the infection. Statistics are even more startling for those hospitalized with COVID-19. Nearly half of hospitalized patients[2] suffer at least one lingering symptom a year after discharge. People who continue to experience COVID-like symptoms for four or more weeks[3] after first getting infected are said to be suffering from “long-haul COVID” and are referred to as “COVID long haulers” or just “long haulers.” The current numbers and trends indicate that long-haul COVID is the next public health disaster in the making, with conservative estimates stating that more than 15 million cases[4] of long-haul COVID will result from this pandemic. This means that millions of people around the globe are finding it difficult to return to their normal responsibilities and activities due to their long-lasting and often debilitating symptoms. While experiencing long-haul COVID is incredibly scary and distressing, many long haulers don’t realize that their ongoing symptoms may be due to post-viral trauma to a part of the brain called the limbic system. This is actually good news, as it means that the long-haul symptoms are likely reversible in many (if not most) cases. In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about long-haul COVID, including how re-origin, a neuroplasticity-based treatment program, can help you rid yourself of your symptoms and reclaim your life. Long-haul COVID is also commonly referred to or diagnosed as:

  • 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

Long-haul COVID symptoms can occur in anyone who has had COVID-19, even if the illness was mild or asymptomatic. While the symptoms of long-haul COVID vary from person to person, people commonly report different combinations of the following symptoms[3]:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Post-exertional malaise (symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities)
  • Brain fog
  • Cough
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep problems
  • Fever
  • Dizziness on standing
  • Rash
  • Mood changes
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Changes in menstrual period cycles

In some cases, long-haul COVID can also manifest as conditions such as fibromyalgia, food sensitivities, chemical sensitivities, electromagnetic field (EMF) sensitivities, anxiety, and feelings of burnout. While these conditions might not seem related at first glance, they all stem from a dysfunctional limbic system, which can cause all sorts of wide-reaching symptoms and conditions. If you have had a COVID-19 infection and are experiencing one or more of the above symptoms for four or more weeks after originally becoming infected, you may be experiencing long-haul COVID. Many long haulers express that they feel as though they have a constant low-level flu or that they just can’t seem to bounce back to full health. For some long haulers, symptoms wax and wane. In others, the symptoms are more or less constant. Additionally, many sufferers notice that their symptoms can be made worse by stress of any kind, whether physical or psychological.

Causes and Risk Factors of Long-Haul COVID

Some people who contract COVID-19 suffer from organ damage to the lungs, heart, or brain[5] 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[6] 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[7] 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[8] 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.

Pain medication

Taking pain medication can help ease the muscle and joint pain that often comes with long-haul COVID. Taking pain medication may provide temporary relief, however, it does nothing to address the root neurochemical cause of long-haul COVID.

Relaxation techniques

Some people report feeling improvement in their symptoms after practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or receiving a relaxing treatment, such as acupuncture, massage, or reiki. These therapies may provide temporary relief and help calm an overactive stress response to a certain degree, however, they fail to address the conditioned pathways in the brain that are causing the long-haul symptoms.

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

At re-origin, we focus on addressing the cause of long-haul COVID at its core. Long-haul COVID occurs when the limbic system goes into overdrive in response to a COVID-19 infection. When in this impaired state, the limbic system inappropriately stimulates the immune system[9] and nervous system as if a viral threat was present, even though the original viral threat has long passed. The continuous stimulation of the immune system[10] and nervous system are what leads to the symptoms associated with long-haul COVID. The good news is that these symptoms are temporary and can be reversed thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change and develop new neural pathways. Using specific neurocognitive exercises, you can get your brain out of “emergency mode” and back to a place of safety and balance. Once you have retrained your hyperactive, traumatized brain, the physical and emotional symptoms you’re experiencing will naturally resolve themselves. re-origin’s approach does not chase or mask symptoms, but rather works to rewire the part of the brain that is causing the dysfunction, resulting in long-lasting recovery. The program is easy to follow, self-directed, cost-effective, and takes just minutes a day to implement.

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How to Live and Cope with Long-Haul COVID

Because long-haul COVID isn’t currently well understood, health professionals generally encourage people to focus on managing their symptoms. At re-origin, we don’t want you to have to manage your symptoms. We want to help you recover, eliminating the need for coping mechanisms altogether. Our neuroplasticity training program involves applying an easy-to-follow, five-step neurocognitive technique to override and rewire faulty conditioning in the brain and create new, functional neural pathways. The key to overcoming post-viral fatigue lies in systematically applying our techniques and being persistent and consistent in your efforts. With dedication and repetition, you can change your brain and thus, your physical symptoms.

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/.

FAQs

What are the long-term effects of COVID-19?
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For most people infected with COVID-19, their symptoms will go away within two to three weeks. For about a third of people[1], however, a COVID-19 infection can trigger long-term symptoms, such as fatigue, breathlessness, and muscle aches. This group of people is said to have what’s referred to as long-haul COVID. Thankfully, many people are finding that long-haul COVID is reversible through brain retraining.

What are the main symptoms of long-haul COVID?
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There are several potential symptoms of long-haul COVID, however, some of the most common symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, post-exertional malaise, brain fog, headache, heart palpitations, changes in taste and smell, and muscle pain.

Is long-haul COVID permanent?
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Many people with long-haul COVID are finding that they can eliminate their symptoms by retraining the overactive threat-detection response in their brain. It’s important to note that brain retraining is not intended to address serious complications, such as organ damage, blood vessel damage, or complications due to hospitalization.

By

Ben