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Long Haul Covid: TCM vs Western Perspectives

It’s bad enough having Covid, but dealing with lingering symptoms after fighting the infection is downright unfair. Why can’t some people (actually as many as almost half of those infected ) make a clean recovery from Covid? “Long-Haul Covid” (LHC) describes a condition of covid-related symptoms that can last for months after infection, and for some, even longer. This phenomenon is currently being studied so we can better understand the how and why.

The list of possible lingering symptoms is long and conveys the reach of this virus
and its effects on nearly every system of the body: Fatigue, fever, headaches, dizziness, cough, chest pain, heart palpitations, numbness, brain fog, changes in taste and smell, sleep problems, digestive issues, joint pain, rashes, menstrual cycle disturbances, anxiety, and depression. And the list goes on. For some it may only be one stubborn disturbance, for others, it may be a debilitating combination of symptoms.

Lingering symptoms can be from direct harm done to the body by the virus. Covid can take a toll on the body from the level of organs to organelles (microscopic cellular structures) and everything in between. Damage to the body’s organs and tissues may cause various systemic long COVID symptoms. Mitochondrial damage is another focal point of research as this organelle is responsible for energy production in the body and is a target for viral damage. This is an important area of study as ‘covid fatigue’ is one of the most common long-haul symptoms.

The immune system itself can also cause harm when unregulated. Cytokine storms are an over-aggressive immune response that can lead to persisting inflammation in the body. Many people with long-haul COVID have elevated cytokine levels, suggesting hyper-inflammation plays a role in LHC.

Another possible immune response scenario is that the stress of COVID confuses the body, triggering an autoimmune response, where the immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells, tissues, and organs. There are also theories that the immune system is not actually confused, but going after viral remnants that have gone deeper into hiding and our own tissues become collateral damage in this war. Another related theory proposes that COVID-19 infection could reactivate, or wake up, other viruses in the body that have gone dormant, resulting in various immune reactions.

LHC from a Chinese Medicine perspective takes into account that COVID is generally considered to be a ‘damp’ pathogen, affecting fluid balance in the body. This imbalance causes inflammation and the main symptoms of cough and fatigue. As the body works to restore balance by redistributing fluid and energy, as well as expelling the pathogen, some may need extra help depending on their constitution, environment, lifestyle and the strength/amount of the pathogen. If help is not received and the imbalance persists, it can manifest in 4 main ways.

The infection drained the body of qi (energy), blood, or body fluids. The key symptom of deficiency is fatigue.

Excess. Covid’s signature effect of ‘dampness’, in excess, can lead to feelings of heaviness and stiffness, as well as symptoms like diarrhea and bloating. Excess heat from the virus in the body can also manifest in things like chronic fever or red itchy rashes.

This is any scenario where the virus has blocked the free flow of the blood and energy in the body. In this form the prominent symptom is pain. The more severe the blockage, the more severe the pain.

Retained Pathogen/Latent Heat: Similar to the idea that viral remnants remain in the body to either confuse or overstimulate the immune system, ths Chinese Medicine concept of ‘retained pathogens’ refers to when a pathogen gets ‘stuck’ in the body, because the body is too weak to fully drive it out. It can stay at an intermediate level in the body causing flu-like symptoms (ie: body aches and fatigue), or go deeper to ‘hide out’ as “Latent Heat” to come

If you are dealing with Long-Haul Covid, it’s been long enough! Heidi can address the specific patterns and factors that have prevented full recovery and help bring you back into a state of balance and health. Call us at (218) 724-3400 today!

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