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Fatigue a Common Symptom of Long COVID

It became apparent early in the pandemic that some people experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms long after the onset of the illness.

A recent Swedish study has shed some light on the post-acute consequences of COVID-19 (PASC), also known as “Long COVID Syndrome.”

The study looked at young, healthy adult health care workers and found that more than a quarter of those who previously had mild COVID-19 reported at least one moderate to severe symptom that lasted more than two months. Even more alarming, 11% had at least one debilitating symptom that lasted for at least eight months. The COVID-19 group was compared to another set of health care workers who had not experienced the virus and who reported that any symptoms of feeling unwell were resolved relatively quickly.

A focus on fatigue

The most common symptoms for the COVID-19 study participants were loss of taste or smell, fatigue and breathing problems. Fatigue as a component of Long COVID is of particular interest, since fatigue can be related to any number of sleep and wake disorders or caused by other medical, psychological or behavioral conditions.

As a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Sleep Disorder Research Advisory Board (SDRAB) and a participant in discussions about the five-year sleep/circadian rhythm research agenda, I can report that the potential dysfunction of the sleep and circadian systems in the brain as a cause or effect of Long COVID was identified as being of specific importance for research funding.

Personalized, precision medicine

Of equal significance to the NIH SDRAB agenda is a focus on personalized medicine. For example, when coexisting obstructive and central sleep apnea (OSA-CSA) present with other conditions such as heart failure, treatment should be tailored in order to achieve therapeutic success. In the SleepCharge program, we emphasize the holistic “whole person” approach starting with an initial medical and behavioral evaluation. Whether investigating symptoms of fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness or sleep disordered breathing, we analyze the patient’s entire medical history and evaluate sleep symptoms not in a vacuum but as part of overall health. Treatment follows a personalized, precision medicine model, with a customized plan for each patient. Sleep touches every biological system in our body and should be considered a major part of disease prevention, as well as physical and mental health promotion.

Source: Havervall S, et al. (2021) Symptoms and functional impairment assessed 8 months after mild COVID-19 among health care workers. JAMA.

Photo by Girts / AdobeStock

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