“Whether immune-mediated secondary OCD could also develop as a consequence of COVID-19 poses a highly relevant research question to be elucidated in the near future [35, 36]. The first studies of their kind have demonstrated infection-triggered neuronal antibody production against various antigens in COVID-19 patients who were presenting with unexplained neurological symptoms .” from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01700-4
Um, yes. It is looking highly likely that chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and Long Haul Covid-19 are all immune system responses. They are not simple at all. They can involve antibodies, cytokines and killer T cells and probably other things.
Antibodies: the difficulty here is that we all make different antibodies. It’s all very well to say that people with PANDAS and PANS make antibodies to Dopamine 1 and 2 receptors, tubulin receptors and lysoganglioside receptors, but people each make different antibodies. The antibodies can attach and block the receptor or can attach to the receptor and turn the key: act like dopamine, for example. Dopamine makes people tachycardic, a fast heart rate. If dopamine receptors are blocked, that could be a source for “brain fog” and feeling down.
Cytokines: I worked at the National Institutes of Health back in the 1980s before medical school. We were studying interleukin 2 and tumor necrosis factor for cancer treatment. Building 10 had mice on the north south axis and human patients on the east west. It was fascinating. Now I am reading a current book on the immune system. There has been a lot of research since 1988. Cytokines are released by cells and are immunodulating agents. They are a form of communication in the immune system.
Killer T cells: When antibodies coat a cell, there are immune system cells that kill and/or eat the coated cells. This is good if it is an infectious bacteria or a cell infected with virus, but it is bad if it is your own joint cells or your heart cells or, horrors, brain cells. In rheumatic fever, antibodies to strep A attack the patient’s own cells as well as the strep A cells. This is called “pseudo autoimmune” but I am starting to suspect that all the autoimmune disorders are responses to stress or infection or both.
So if you are still reading, you are saying wait, this is awful, what can we do about it?
Our understanding of the immune system is better than 1988 however… it still has a ways to go. I think that Covid-19 and Long Haul Covid are going to seriously accelerate the research in this area. Meanwhile there are some things people can do to “down regulate” or quiet down the immune system.
If antibodies are causing some of the problem, we need to quiet them down. With severe PANDAS in children, plasmapheresis filters the blood and filters out antibodies. However, the body keeps making them. Infection must be treated first, but then the initial antibody response lasts for 6-8 weeks. Then the body makes memory antibodies and cells to remember. With reinfection, the response lasts for 2-4 months and then subsides if the infection is gone.
Treat infection first. Then treat urgent symptoms, including urgent psychiatric symptoms. Then work can start on the sympathetic nervous system, quieting down to the parasympathetic state. This is not easy with Long Haul Covid-19 or chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia because people are afraid, confused, in pain, exhausted. I have written about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems here and here. Start with slow breathing, four seconds in and four seconds out. It takes practice.
I have been getting feedback at the pulmonary rehab. When I arrive, they take my pulse, 02 saturation and blood pressure. They put the pulse oximeter on and often I am up in the 90s. I slow my breathing and watch my pulse drop. One day I came in relaxed and my initial pulse was 71. When I was a little late, it started at 99 and came down. The therapist took it off when I got my pulse down to 90. We can check our own pulse, the number of heart beats in one minute, or a small pulse oximeter is about $30.
We can’t really “fix” the immune system with drugs. Steroids can quiet inflammation but they make us more susceptible to infection and raise blood sugar and cause multiple problems when used chronically, like osteoporosis. Plasmapheresis is expensive and requires specially trained nurses. Doesn’t a breathing exercise sound a lot more DIY and cheaper too? You got this. Practice, practice, practice.