If You Have or Had COVID, You May Want to Know About ME/CFS
ME/CFS and Long COVID have a lot in common
This article is second in the COVID series article. You can find the first article here.
This article discusses patients suffering from COVID symptoms long after they have a COVID negative report. The doctors are unsure about why COVID symptoms continue to trouble many COVID-negative patients. Technically, a COVID-negative report indicates that the virus is no longer present in the patient’s body, so why do COVID symptoms continue to affect COVID-negative patients?
The patients who suffer from COVID-19 symptoms months after getting COVID- negative are called long haulers, and the condition is known as long COVID. Long COVID is similar to ME/CFS as Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, remarked, “Long COVID is likely the same or very similar to Myalgic encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.” [ME/CFS]
What is ME/CFS?
It’s November 1983. A patient walks into the doctor’s clinic and describes her ordeal. A year ago, she got sick from a virus, and although some symptoms have receded, she feels exhausted, tired all the time. She feels a little lost and complains that her thinking ability has shrunk. To quote the lady, “Many of the symptoms gradually improved, but the terrible fatigue and difficulty thinking has not gotten better. They’re so bad I can’t fulfil my responsibilities at home or at work. This illness is affecting my brain, stealing my energy, and affecting my immune system. It’s keeping me from realizing my dreams.”
This was in the 1980s, and no medicine textbook back then had documented the above illness. The lab reports were normal, but the lady had been feeling sick for the last year. The doctor can either believe the patient and continue researching the patient’s condition or say, “Listen, I think it’s just in your mind. There’s nothing wrong.” The latter choice will worsen the patient’s plight.
More than three decades have passed since the incident, and thankfully, several studies have been done on the condition. The institute of medicine describes the condition as, “a serious, chronic, complex systematic disease that often can profoundly affect the lives of patients.” The condition is called myalgic encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Brain scans, Brain MRI of ME/CFS patients had abnormal findings. The Autonomic nervous system was also working abnormally. The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary body functions like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, etc.
We know cells are the basic unit of life. Billions of cells work inside to keep our body functioning normally. For example, cells use oxygen from the air we breathe to provide energy for the functioning of different organs. Research studies indicate that ME/CFS affected people may feel drained because their cells have deteriorated as they cannot make enough energy or fail to use the energy available effectively.
The research concluded that ME/CFS affects the immune system. The immune system is continuously and continually activated as if it’s fighting against an enemy inside the body. Because of this continuous attack mode, the immune system gets exhausted.
Activation of hunkering-down systems
When faced with a life-threatening situation, for survival, animals preserve the energy for core tasks. The body will prioritize core tasks and save energy for them. For example, when worms and bears have food shortages, their bodies activate a system that directs energy to tasks essential for survival. Other tasks are curtailed. Humans who are very sick also have a hunkering down mechanism, and researchers think that this happens when ME/CFS affects a person. But in ME/CFS, the body is unable to get out of the “hunkering down mode.”
ME/CFS affects about 2.5 million people in the U.S.
Some people have CFS after a viral infection; therefore, researchers have pointed out that some viruses may cause CFS. But presently, enough proof is absent to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between CFS and viruses.
Immune system problems
CFS affects the immune system of people. CFS affected people have a weak immune system, but no clear link between a weakened immune system and CFS exists.
Sometimes, an injury, surgery, or stress may lead to CFS, as people having CFS reported one of the above events before their symptoms began.