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‘My brain doesn’t work like it did’: COVID-19 ‘long-hauler’ describes persistent symptoms

TORONTO — More than 130,000 Canadians have recovered from COVID-19, but some patients say they’re experiencing debilitating side effects months after infection.

Before the pandemic, Lorraine Graves juggled a busy schedule working as a journalist in Richmond, B.C. But in March, she started to feel aches in her throat.

“The very back of my throat was a little sore, but therapeutic ice cream took care of that,” she told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “I didn’t feel sick.”

After a week, Graves says she was hit by an “immunological bust” that left her in long coughing fits with difficulty breathing. Seven months later, she says she is still suffering from the effects of the virus.

“I survived, but I have survived with such problems,” Graves said. “My brain just doesn’t work like it did. I’m sharp, I’m vivid, I’m vibrant and I’m not any more. I can act like this for a little while and then I’m exhausted for the rest of the day.”

Scientists have found that some of the long-term effects of COVID-19 include heart damage as well as neurological issues like brain fog and difficulty thinking. Other patients have reported hair loss, fatigue and even painful lesions dubbed “COVID toes,” many weeks or months after infection. Those that have experienced persistent symptoms long after infection have come to be known as COVID-19 “long-haulers.”

While information is scarce about symptoms that persist after recovery, one study based out of Italy found that nearly 90 per cent of patients who recovered from COVID-19 reported at least one persistent symptom two months later. 

Earlier this month, a group of 39 doctors considered “long-haulers” wrote about their battle with the virus and their persistent symptoms in a manifesto published in the British Medical Journal. The doctors are calling on politicians, scientists and public health officials to conduct more research into chronic COVID-19 symptoms and to create additional clinical services. 

“Prolonged symptoms are having a substantial impact on a significant minority of people,” the letter says. 

“Failure to understand the underlying biological mechanisms causing these persisting symptoms risks missing opportunities to identify risk factors, prevent chronicity, and find treatment approaches for people affected now and in the future.”

After reading that letter, Lorraine Graves says she shares similar concerns and wants government officials to fund more research and active rehab centres.

“I’ve got another third of my life to live and I want to live it vibrantly,” she says. “We need help, we need support and we need to be believed.”  

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