COVID-19 has had massive impacts on our world. Every person on planet earth has been affected in some way by this virus and its ramifications.
Thankfully, we know that most people who contract SARS-CoV2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, have mild to moderate degrees of illness that subside quickly. However, some individuals experience ongoing symptoms and crippling fatigue. You may be surprised to know that post-viral syndrome can result from other common viruses. Regardless of the virus, when symptoms persist and health isn’t quickly restored, it’s important to find out why this is happening.
Post-viral syndrome, also known as post-viral fatigue or post-viral fatigue syndrome, isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s just that now people are likening these ongoing symptoms with post-COVID syndrome. It’s important to understand that individuals can experience ongoing symptoms and reactions following Epstein Barr virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome from the SARS-COV1 virus, West Nile virus, H1N1 influenza, and many others. These viruses can leave patients experiencing long-term fatigue and malaise for months. If left unchecked, people can go on to develop autoimmunity and chronic disease.
The World Health Organization tells us that the majority of people will recover from COVID-19 in anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Those who have had a severe case of any viral illness, including COVID-19, can expect a longer recovery time. In fact, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that showed that 80 percent of COVID-19 hospitalized patients still had persisting symptoms after eight weeks.
As we have seen with other viruses, COVID has the potential to trigger chronic disease. Oftentimes, we see various forms of viral and other illnesses trigger an autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Post-COVID syndrome and post-viral syndrome look very similar to chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that 2.5 million Americans struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis. These conditions are characterized by extreme fatigue that doesn’t resolve with rest. Oftentimes, the exhaustion is debilitating.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue
It’s important to understand that post-viral syndrome symptoms are virtually identical to chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms. COVID sufferers show chronic fatigue symptoms as well as shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, brain fog, and digestive distress. Interestingly, brain fog and digestive distress often go hand-in-hand due to the connection of the gut and brain through the gut-brain axis.
For a true chronic fatigue diagnosis, other potential causes of fatigue must be ruled out and patients must experience symptoms for at least six months. These symptoms include:
- Fatigue and weakness with exertion (physical, emotional, or cognitive)
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Impaired memory or concentration
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Sore throat
- Tender lymph nodes
Roots of Chronic Fatigue
Oftentimes, chronic fatigue syndrome stumps the medical community as there isn’t a clear-cut treatment in their paradigm. Dealing with conditions such as chronic fatigue or post-viral syndrome is where functional and integrative medicine shine because our focus is to get to the root cause of the symptom presentation. By addressing the root cause, we are able to impact the origin of the symptoms. Some potential root causes include but are not limited to:
- Celiac disease
- Food sensitivities
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Glyphosate toxicity
- Chronic infections
- Mitochondrial dysfunction
- Mast cell activation and elevated histamine response
Each of these factors, or a combination of them, can trigger symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. If chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms started after an environmental toxin exposure or viral illness including COVID-19, mononucleosis (mono), or shingles, it could be that the immune system didn’t fully rise to the occasion. It may go without saying, but the path forward from each of these root causes will look different from the others. For example, different interventions will be required for someone who had a gluten exposure versus a viral illness. This is why a thorough health history and a personalized approach are so important.
COVID-19 and other viral illnesses not only can contribute to post-viral syndrome, but they can also act as the triggering event for autoimmune disease. We will delve into this topic in our next article. Until then, if you find yourself with lingering symptoms or the feeling that something isn’t quite right, do not write them off. Find a skilled clinician who will listen to you and help you figure out the root cause.
Dr. Ashley Turner is a board-certified doctor of holistic health, traditionally-trained naturopath, author, homesteader, and homeschooling mother of three sweet daughters. You can reach her at Restorative Wellness Center where she practices functional medicine.