Do you still struggle with brain fog, hair loss, or any of the more than one hundred reported Covid-19 symptoms? You’re not alone.
A whopping 43% of individuals are estimated to still have at least one symptom four or more weeks after infection. That’s a pretty staggering percentage—it comes to over 100 million individuals across the globe!
And while you may think these symptoms are the result of a still-active Covid-19 virus, here’s the kicker: they’re actually not. Covid-19 is not a long-haul virus and it doesn’t stick around in your body. But it does trigger the responses that cause the symptoms known as “long Covid”. And even a mild case of Covid-19 can do havoc to the systems in your body that keep you healthy and functioning.
So, if you still have issues a month or two post-Covid, you’re no longer fighting the virus itself—you’re now dealing with the aftermath.
The good news is, if you understand this and take action, you can repair damage done and get your body healthy again—maybe even healthier than it was before! But it starts with a functional medicine approach and understanding the cause of your symptoms so you can heal from the inside out.
What is Long Covid?
Long Covid is the term used to describe the lingering effects Covid has on the body after the initial infection is gone. It does not mean an individual still has an active case of Covid-19, but that there are lingering effects from having Covid.
You might also hear people refer to long Covid as “post-covid” symptoms, and the individuals with long Covid as “Covid long haulers”.
What are the Symptoms of Long Covid?
A couple conversations with friends who’ve had Covid-19, and you know that the symptoms of long Covid are wide-ranging and vary from person to person. Some people experience a fairly mild case of Covid-19 followed by nasty long Covid effects like hair loss or extreme fatigue. Others deal with bouts of depression or anxiety. And then, some are completely asymptomatic!
Recovery time is also different for everyone and can even be a cycle where you feel better for a time and then suddenly get worse again.
While every case is different, some of the common lingering symptoms of Covid-19 include:
- Loss of taste and/or smell
- Loss of smell
- Hair falling out
- Joint and chest pain
- Cognitive issues
- Restlessness and sleep problems
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
- Fast heartbeat
Are There Different Symptoms for Different Covid-19 Strains?
A study out of Italy suggests that different long Covid symptoms are more common with different Covid-19 variants. The study analyzed persistent symptoms reported by 428 patients who were treated between June 2020 and July 2021, when the original SARS-CoV-2 and Alpha variants were circulating. 76% of the patients in the study reported at least one long Covid symptom, with the most common reported symptoms being difficulty breathing and chronic fatigue.
The really interesting finding was that while there were similar symptoms between the two different Covid-19 strains, certain symptoms were more common with certain strains. Here are the results from the study:
Original SARS-CoV-2—This was the dominant strain from March 2020 to December 2020
The most common symptoms of this strain include:
- Fatigue (37%)
- Insomnia (16%)
- Altered sense of taste (11%)
- Impaired hearing (5%)
Difficulty breathing (33%), brain fog (10%), anxiety/depression (6%), and body aches (4%) were less common with the original strain than the Alpha strain.
Alpha strain—This was the dominant strain from January 2021 to April 2021
The most common symptoms of this strain include:
- Body aches (10%)
- Difficulty breathing (42%)
- Brain fog/mental confusion (17%)
- Anxiety/depression (13%)
Altered sense of taste (4%), loss of smell (2%), and impaired hearing (1%) were less common with the Alpha strain than the original strain.
What are the Causes of Long Covid?
When it appeared on the scene in 2020, Covid-19 caused a lot of unusual and unexpected symptoms which have taken us a while to study and understand.
And while we’re still learning about Covid-19 and the impact it has on the body, we know a lot more now about what’s going on behind the scenes.
The main thing we know is that while the initial Covid-19 illness can be severe, the long Covid symptoms are a result of the initial illness stressing the body out and damaging a lot of the vital systems that keep our bodies functioning in a healthy way. For many individuals, Covid-19 appears to be the straw that broke the back by triggering an already stressed out immune system into an extreme response.
So, what is causing these extreme long Covid symptoms? Here are a few possibilities:
At the root of most of these symptoms is an overactive and chronic inflammatory response triggered by an initial Covid-19 infection. Inflammation is a natural occurrence, and it’s how your body responds to threats like cuts, infections, and viruses—that means Covid-19. Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body—your brain, digestive tract, skin—anywhere! Inflammation is normally a good thing, but when your body is overreacting it can become chronic and actually damage healthy tissue. Chronic inflammation can affect any part of the body and lead to a lot of unpleasant symptoms, including fever, fatigue, headache, muscle soreness, and more. Eventually, these symptoms can trigger autoimmune disorders, cancer, and other nasty illnesses.
A study out of Australia looked at patients with long Covid symptoms and found that even after the virus had left the patient’s bodies, their immune system stayed on high alert, keeping the inflammatory response sustained as well.
Reactivated Epstein Barr (EBV)
Epstein Barr is a virus very commonly found in humans that never truly goes away. Individuals often get infected with EBV in their childhood and experience an asymptomatic infection. If infected in adolescence or adulthood, it commonly results in mononucleosis (mono) and the individual may take several weeks to recover from the symptoms. Once recovered, the virus goes dormant and typically remains inactive in the body. About 90% of the human population actually has EBV, however the majority are inactive cases.
That said, if someone experiences a stressful event and the immune system gets weakened (*ahem* Covid!), a dormant EBV can be reactivated. And according to new research, a lot of long Covid symptoms may actually be reactivated EBV.
A June 2021 study found that 66.7% of the patients they were studying who reported long Covid symptoms also showed evidence of reactivated EBV, while just 10% of the control group (who did not have long covid symptoms) showed evidence of EBV reactivation. EBV symptoms include extreme fatigue, fever, sore throat, and other symptoms commonly reported by covid long haulers.
Viral infections (such as Covid-19) can trigger high levels of inflammation in the body, and if that happens, it can cascade into a full-blown autoimmune disorder. Hashimotos is a common autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid and can cause symptoms such as difficulty losing weight, loss of hair, fatigue, and muscle weakness—also common long Covid symptoms.
We also know that Covid-19 can irritate the intestinal lining and damage the digestive tract. Many patients with long Covid report gastrointestinal symptoms from Covid-19, including: nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Your digestive tract is responsible for breaking down food into nutrients, so if it’s damaged it can severely interrupt your body’s healthy function.
What are the Treatments for Long Haul Covid Symptoms?
With Covid-19 having such a wide range of symptoms, it’s probably no surprise to you that there are many treatment paths.
Let’s take a look at the two common approaches to treating long Covid:
The Traditional Medicine Approach
The traditional medical approach focuses on treating and managing active symptoms, often through medication.
Your doctor will take note of your symptoms and potentially run some tests to check important markers. The treatment will likely be focused on treating your symptoms and managing any pain or discomfort you’re feeling.
This approach can be beneficial for short-term relief and getting your symptoms under control quickly. That said, we also want to look for the root cause and actually heal your body from the inside out. That’s where functional medicine can fill in the gaps.
The Functional Medicine Approach
The functional medicine approach is to treat the cause of the illness, not just the symptoms. The goal is complete healing—from the inside out.
This means boosting your immune system through diet, exercise, stress management, and other natural methods. At F8 Well Centers, we also always look at a patient’s blood work to help us determine specific issues that need to be targeted directly.
While we want to treat the symptoms—because we know they are painful—taking the time and doing the work to heal and fix the damage leads to long-term health and vitality.
Is It Possible to Fully Recover from Long Covid?
Absolutely! If you or a loved one are struggling with long Covid symptoms, know that you CAN get better and your body CAN heal.
If you’re struggling with long Covid symptoms, make sure to get your doctor involved and work with them to understand what systems were damaged so that you can focus on healing them.
If you don’t have a doctor or if you’d like to heal using a functional medicine approach, reach out to the F8 Well Centers team! We serve patients all over the United States and have helped many of our patients heal from long Covid—we’d love to work with you.
Take the first step towards healing by scheduling an appointment!