While COVID-19 isn’t the big mystery it was in 2020, the world is still continually learning more about the virus. Post-acute sequelae of COVID 2019 (PASC, commonly called long COVID), symptoms that persist more than 30 days after contracting the virus, continues to affect almost 20 percent of people who have been infected with COVID-19. A recent study found that 67 percent of long COVID patients are developing dysautonomia.
Dysautonomia is autonomic nervous system dysfunction. The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary bodily functions like heartbeat, digestion and breathing.
The study’s authors found that COVID-19 severity had no connection with the degree of patients’ autonomic dysfunction. They concluded that even mild COVID-19 cases can lead to significant autonomic dysfunction.
Dr. Yessar Hussain explained that the team at Austin Neuromuscular Center is seeing many long COVID patients with dysautonomia. He suspects that COVID-19 triggers an autoimmune disorder.
Depending on the type of dysautonomia, symptoms can include:
- Lightheadedness or fainting when standing up
- Heart palpitations
- Heat intolerance
- Urinary retention
- Excessive fatigue
- Excessive thirst
Viral infection is a risk factor for a type of dysautonomia called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Researchers reported that POTS is the type of dysautonomia with the strongest correlation to long COVID.
The study’s authors concluded that more research is needed on processes of dysautonomia in those with long COVID, how those processes are related to immune and coagulation biomarkers, and potential treatments for the improvement of autonomic function.
When a patient comes to ANC with long COVID and dysautonomia symptoms, Dr. Hussain explained, he and his colleagues start with diagnostic testing. ANC has an onsite autonomic functions lab, which allows the ANC team to diagnose each patient’s specific issues and to develop a personalized treatment plan for symptoms like tachycardia (when the heart beats more than 100 per minute), low blood pressure and neuropathy pain. “The prognosis is good from our experience. Most patients recover well by the one-year mark from COVID-19 infections,” he added.