Covid-19: Long Haul III

The CDC has guidelines for Long Covid and it can qualify for disability in the United States.

Here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html

And here: “As of July 2021, “long COVID,” also known as post-COVID conditions, can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Learn more: Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section

Here is the list of “most common” symptoms from the CDC:

General symptoms

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
  • Fever

Respiratory and heart symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

Neurological symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety

Digestive symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

Other symptoms

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Changes in menstrual cycles

There are recommendations for a work up by physicians. Depending on symptoms, this may include labs, ECG, echocardiogram (heart ultrasound), CT scan and other tests.

A friend has just gone through those four tests . They are “normal” except for her heart rate. At rest her heart rate is 70 with a normal oxygen level. Walking, her heart rate jumps to 135. Over 100 is abnormal in this athlete who is NOT exerting heavily.

So WHAT is going on with NORMAL testing? I think this is “Covid-19 Viral Pneumonia”, a complication of Covid-19, just as “Influenza Viral Pneumonia” is a complication of influenza. Ralph Netter MD has an illustration of lungs from a person who died of influenza viral pneumonia: the lungs are swollen and inflamed and bruised. WHY is the testing “normal” then? The swelling is throughout the lungs, so a chest x-ray sees it as all the same density and a CT scan also sees it as all the same density. The lungs may have mildly decreased breath sounds, but the sounds are even throughout the lungs. The useful TEST is a walk test. I have tested patients with “walking pneumonia” in clinic for years: get a resting heart rate and oxygen level. Then have my patient walk up and down the hall three times and sit back down. Watch the heart rate and oxygen level. If the heart rate jumps 30 beats up or is over 100, the person needs to continue rest until the heart rate stays under 100 or jumps less than 30 beats. It is important to observe the heart rate until they recover. Sometimes the oxygen saturation will drop as the heart rate comes down, and some people qualify for oxygen. Steroids do not seem to work for this. The length of time to healing is not totally surprising, because a lobar pneumonia that is visible on chest xray takes 6-8 weeks to fully clear. It is not too amazing that a bad walking pneumonia could also take 6 weeks or more to clear. If the person returns to work too soon, they prolong the lung inflammation and they are at risk for exhaustion and for a secondary pneumonia. The treatment is REST REST REST and support.

Do they need oxygen? Currently oxygen is covered only if the person’s oxygen saturation drops down to 88%. However, I think that oxygen would help recovery and make them less exhausted. With my first walking pneumonia, which was influenza, my walking heart rate was 135 and my resting heart rate was 100. Both were abnormal for me. Neither I nor my physician could figure it out. This was in 2003. I did look in my Netter book: I took one look at the painting of the influenza lungs and shut the book. “Oh.” I thought. “That’s why I can’t breathe.” The image is here, though I wish it were bigger.

It took two months for my heart rate to come down, the lung swelling to improve, and me to return to work. I read the text of Dr. Netter’s image a year later and then I read an entire book about the 1918-1919 influenza. Since then I have walked people who come in complaining of exhaustion after a “cold” or “bad cough”. Viruses can cause this and so can bacteria: mycoplasma pneumonia, chlamydia pneumonia, pneumococcal pneumonia, legionella and strep A. If the fever is gone, the infection has probably resolved, but it still can take days or weeks for the lung tissue to recover.

For Covid-19, I would add a third test: walking with weights. We test cardiac patients by asking if they can carry two bags of groceries up a flight of stairs. That is 3 Mets, a measure of the heart load. We need to measure the lung load as well. If the lung tissue is swollen, the amount of airspace is cut down and can be half normal. The heart attempts to take up the slack. The person may tolerate a heart rate of 135 for a while, but it is like running a marathon. If they are older or have heart disease, this can trigger a heart attack. I would walk the person carrying hand weights, and see the recovery.

Also, brain fog is unsurprising. If your oxygen level is borderline, it is darn hard to think. I write really strange songs when I am hypoxic. I get goofy and feel weird. The fast heart rate also feels like anxiety: I think that the body is trying to tell me to rest.

The definition of Long Covid is symptoms after 30 days. Please see your physician if you are still ill and continue to have symptoms.

Blessings.

Here is a recent article about T-cells and inflammation in the lungs of Covid-19 patients: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8460308/

and this: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.589380/full

Covid-19: Hope for Long Haul

I want to offer hope to the people with Long Covid-19. Having been through four bad pneumonias, with increasingly long recovery times, and now disabled for doing Family Medicine, I have experience to share. First I want to talk about chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

I am a piler, not a filer. Including in my brain. I have been adding to the chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia pile since I was in medical school.

In residency a new patient questions me. “Do you believe in chronic fatigue?” he says, nearly hostile.

“Yes,” I reply, “but I don’t know what it is or what causes it or how to fix it.”

For years different causes were suggested. Often infections: EBV, mononucleosis, lyme disease. Some people didn’t have any infection. I did note even in residency that my chronic fatigue patients all had one thing in common: they were exhausting.

Does that sound terrible? They were all type A, high achievers, often super high energy. Often they got sick or crashed when they were working three jobs, or working 20 hours a day on their own business, or doing something that sounded insanely exhausting and unsustainable. And most of them wanted that back. “Ok, wait. You were working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, got sick and THAT is what you want to get back to?”

None of the chronic fatigue people seemed to be type B.

Eventually I read that one in ten people with ANY severe infection can get chronic fatigue.

Then I work with the U of Washington Telepain Clinic, on zoom. They start studying functional MRIs of the brains of people with fibromyalgia.

They use a thumbscrew. They put a measurable amount of pressure on a person with no fibromyalgia. The person reports 3-4 out of 10 pain. The brain lights up a certain amount in the pain centers on the MRI. The doctors can SEE it. Then they test the fibromyalgia people with the same amount of thumbscrew pressure. The fibromyalgia people report 8-9/10 pressure and they are not lying. The pain centers in the brain light up correspondingly more. So they ARE feeling 8-9/10 pain.

Is this a muscle problem? A brain problem? Or both?

It appears to be both. Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and other disorders with pain out of proportion to the physical findings were being called “central pain processing disorders”.

I thought of chronic fatigue as a sort of switch. As if at a certain level of stress or exhaustion or infection the body would throw a switch. And force the person to rest.

I wondered if the type B people just rested and got over it, while the type A people fought it like tigers. Which seemed to make it worse.

And now we have Covid-19. The study getting my attention is saying that 20%, or 1 in five people age 18-64, have Long Haul symptoms. Over 65 it is 25%, one in four. And it can happen in people with no preexisting conditions. Preexisting conditions or not, this sucks. The two biggest complaints are lung related and muscle related.

I have chronic fatigue following my third pneumonia in 2014. I might be just a little type A. I went back to work too soon (6 months after the pneumonia) and after a half day would crash asleep at 3 pm. For another 6 months. Now that I have had the fourth pneumonia and have been off for a year and been on oxygen, I feel better than I have since before 2014, even though I still need oxygen part time. Guess I was in denial about the chronic fatigue. NOT ME!

So, dear reader, learn from me and don’t be like me. The biggest thing that I have had to get through my thick type A skull is that when my body wants rest, I need to rest. This can be hella annoying, as my son would say. I have to pay attention to my energy level and decide what to do. And some of my precious energy has to go to things like laundry and paying bills! How very frustrating. My markers are energy level and also pulse. My pulse tells me when I need oxygen and when I am really sick. With the first pneumonia back in 2003, influenza, my resting pulse stayed at 100. My normal then was about 65. When I stood up, my pulse went to 135. It was EXHAUSTING to stand up. I had to rest half way up one flight of stairs. It was hard to walk two blocks to pick my daughter up from primary school. And I looked fine. Neither my doctor nor I could figure it out. I finally guessed that it was lung tissue swelling and hoped it would go down eventually. It did, but it was a full two months and my doctor partners thought I was malingering. I tried not to wish it on them. It sucked and I felt awful back at work, but my pulse had finally come down. We even did a heart ultrasound, but all it showed was a fast heart rate. My chest film looked “normal”, because the tissue swelling is throughout the lungs, so it cannot be seen on a chest xray. It was very weird, but I recovered. And all the descriptions of Long Covid sound like my lung swelling. Fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and terrible fatigue. Go back to the couch.

Go back to the couch and wait. Do what you have to but if your heart rate is over 100 when you get up, you have to rest. Otherwise you will prolong it. Seriously.

More later. Peace me and sending love and peace.

Anna’s hummingbirds can survive below freezing temperatures by slowing their metabolism at night, until it warms up in the morning. Talk about resting!

Covid-19: Long Haul

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-58918869 Some people with Long Haul Covid-19 are having to relearn how to walk and talk.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leicestershire-59674203. Patients who were hospitalized are still affected at 5 months and one year after they are released from the hospital. Being female and obese are big risk factors. The article says “Long Covid has the potential to become highly prevalent as a new long-term condition.”

One more:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8146298/ ” While the precise definition of long COVID may be lacking, the most common symptoms reported in many studies are fatigue and dyspnoea that last for months after acute COVID-19. Other persistent symptoms may include cognitive and mental impairments, chest and joint pains, palpitations, myalgia, smell and taste dysfunctions, cough, headache, and gastrointestinal and cardiac issues.”
“One puzzling feature of long COVID is that it affects survivors of COVID-19 at all disease severity. Studies have discovered that long COVID affects even mild-to-moderate cases and younger adults who did not require respiratory support or hospital or intensive care. Patients who were no longer positive for SARS-CoV-2 and discharged from the hospital, as well as outpatients, can also develop long COVID [24,30,31,41,50]. More concerningly, long COVID also targets children, including those who had asymptomatic COVID-19, resulting in symptoms such as dyspnoea, fatigue, myalgia, cognitive impairments, headache, palpitations, and chest pain that last for at least 6 months [51–53].”

And the symptoms? “The most common ongoing symptoms were fatigue, muscle pain, physically slowing down, poor sleep and breathlessness.”

Yes, the same as mine.

My initial evaluation of Long Haul Covid-19 patients will cover three areas:

1. Behavioral Health. Are they having brain fog, feeling slowed, feeling like they can’t think? Is that what happened during the Covid-19 or did the opposite happen? Were they manic/ADHD/OCD etc? What happened in the weeks leading up to getting sick? Any major worries or life trauma? Lose a job, a relationship, someone in the family die? I am looking for a dopamine antibody pattern.

2. Musculoskeletal Chronic Fatigue. What muscles work and which muscles don’t work? If they need to lie in bed for 20 hours a day, both slow and fast twitch muscles are affected. If they are short of breath, they should have pulmonary function tests, including a loaded and unloaded walk test. Are their oxygen saturations dropping? They also need a sleep study. Check for sleep apnea. Any signs of ongoing infection with anything? Teeth, sinuses, ears, throat, lungs, stomach, lower gut, urinary, skin.

3. Musculoskeletal Fibromyalgia. WHEN do their muscles hurt? Is it after eating? Do they fall asleep after they eat or does their blood pressure drop after eating? What diet changes have they made? Are there things they have identified that they can’t eat? Gluten, lactose, meat, sucrose, fructose, nightshades, whatever. I am looking for antibodies to lysogangliosides.

Treatment:

High antibody levels can be lowered somewhat just with “lifestyle changes” aka no drugs.

A. Treat infection if present. Look for strep A with an ASO, since we have an occult one that is in the lungs, not the throat. For fungal infection, even just on the skin, lower blood sugar as much as tolerated. This may mean a ketotic diet.

B. Treat behavioral health with drugs if emergent. If suicidal or really losing it (meaning job/relationships/whatever), then drugs may be needed. But not forever. Avoid benzodiazepines. Check for addictions.

C. Lower antibody levels:
a. Lower stress. Many people will resist this. Counseling highly recommended, ‘cept they are all swamped. Have the person draw the three circles: a day in the present life, their ideal life and then what their body wants. Listen to the body.

b. You can sweat antibodies out: hot baths, hot shower, steam room, sauna, exercise. Daily in the morning, because cortisol rises when we get up, and so levels should be lowered.

c. Is there a stimulant that works for this person to calm them down? Or an antidepressant if they are slowed instead of sped up. The relatives of dopamine that work for ME are coffee caffeine and terbutaline. Ones that do NOT work for me include albuterol and tea caffeine. Ones that I have not tried include theophylline, that new relative of albuterol and ADHD meds like adderall. This will be individual to the person because we all make different antibodies. We are looking for a drug that displaces the dopamine antibodies. For people who are slowed or have brain fog, the stimulants may not work. I would try the SSRI antidepressants first, like sertraline and citalopram, unless the patient tells me they don’t work or make them anxious. I would screen for PTSD. For high PTSD scores and high ACE scores, I would use the old tricyclics, mirtazapine (which is NOT a benzodiazepine), wellbutrin or trazodone. Again, avoid benzodiazepines. Also check how much alcohol and marijuana are on board, because those are definitely going to make brain fog worse. The functional medicine people are treating mystery patients with hyperbaric oxygen chambers and I suspect that this works for the people with blocker tubulin antibodies.

d. Muscle pain/fibromyalgia symptoms. Avoid opioids, they will only work temporarily and may addict. Avoid muscle relaxants, they will only work temporarily. Again, the tricyclics may help. The newer antiseizure drugs that are indicated for fibromyalgia are possibilities, though as an “old” doctor I am conservative about “new” drugs. Gabapentin, pregabalin, and if the person is sped up, antiseizure medicines that are used for mania. GENTLE exercise. The line between me having a good day today and overdoing is knife thin. On the overdoing days I go to bed at 5 pm. I went to sleep at 5 pm yesterday and 6:30 last night. I sang for church last night and even though I’d driven myself there, one of the quartet offered to drive me home. “Do I look that grey?” I asked. “Yes.” he said. I turn grey from fatigue and it can be sudden. Right now it’s after my second meal. If I am active, I will fall asleep after lunch if I can. If I go really light on lunch, I crash right after dinner. And remember, I am one of the lucky people who only have fast twitch muscles affected, not fast and slow twitch.

I am adding this to yesterday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: hopeful.

nap

I am posting this for today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: action.

Well, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? Which could be a nap. This is taken with my phone zoomed from an upstairs window, right in my back yard. Voyeur, yep, that’s me, spying on my Giant Long Earred Yard Rats, also sometimes called Deer.

All of my 911 memories are still swirling around. I think everyone is exhausted and grieving. Please take care of yourselves today and I hope you have a safe place to take a nap, like my Giant Yard Rats.

Covid-19: simplified self care

  1. I am a Family Practice Physician for 30 years. I have had pneumonia four times. I last got pneumonia on March 20, 2021 and I am still off work and on oxygen. This is the first time I have been on oxygen. No tobacco, no marijuana, no lung disease found to date but my mother had tuberculosis when I was born and my father smoked unfiltered Camels. With the hospital beds filling up, this is to help keep people out of the emergency room if they don’t need to be there and to help people track how sick they are.
  2. Learn to take your pulse. You need a second hand. Your heart rate is the number of beats in 60 seconds. Take it at rest (which means sitting or lying down). Then try taking it after you walk. It should be regular unless you have known atrial fibrillation. Also, if you are fifty or older, you may skip some beats so that you have early or late ones. That is not worrisome.
  3. Normal is 60-100. If you are very out of shape, you might go up to 120 after you run up the stairs or walk fast.
  4. If your resting pulse is 120 or higher, call your physician. If you are very short of breath with that or your lips are turning blue, call an ambulance right away.
  5. If your resting pulse is normal, say, 70 beats per minute, and your pulse after walking goes up 30 points or over 100, you are sick. If you are very short of breath after walking you may need oxygen. Call your physician and walk… really… slowly. When your lungs are swollen, there is less air space to exchange oxygen and your heart makes up the difference. If your heart is beating at over 100 for long, it is like running a marathon. Don’t stop walking completely because you are at risk for blood clots. But walk really slowly.
  6. If your resting pulse is normal and your walking pulse is ok, try a loaded walk. Carry something that weighs 20 pounds if you can. Then sit down and check a pulse again. If it is over 100 or jumps 30 points, you too have lung swelling, it’s just a little more subtle. You need to rest too.
  7. With practice, you will have a good idea what your pulse is before you do a formal count.
  8. You can use a pulse oximeter but you have to use it accurately. The fingers should be not moving and lying on the person’s knee or table or something. Otherwise it will give inaccurate readings and scare you. With a regular heart rate, look for the light to be picking up regularly before you believe the oxygen level. O2 sats under 87% need oxygen, but also if someone is going below 95% or is a child, call doctor or ambulance.
  9. Take a multivitamin. It is a lot of work for your heart to race fast. Rest, rest, rest. I have had 4 rounds of pneumonia with lung swelling. It took two months, two months, a year and this time I am five months post pneumonia and still on oxygen.
  10. Don’t use quack supplements and don’t take veterinarian ivermectin. Hello, you are not a sheep.
  11. Remember that if someone is hypoxic, they may act goofy, happy and unconcerned or be scared or have memory loss or just be confused. I write really weird rhyming songs when hypoxic and have the poor judgement to sing them to my doctor.
  12. GETTING VACCINATED IS YOUR BEST BET TO NOT DIE OF COVID-19. AND WEARING A MASK ALL THE TIME AROUND OTHER PEOPLE.

Good luck and take care.