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Study: Stress Exacerbates ‘Long COVID’

Health

Man at desk with his head down | Image by Shutterstock

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors have observed not just physical symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 but also neuropsychiatric ailments, such as severe fatigue, delirium, sleep disorders, and anxiety.

As early as April 2020, researchers from the University of California San Diego began to notice several mental effects of the pandemic.

“Patients from Wuhan described encephalopathy, or persistent [over 24 hours] alterations in consciousness,” the California study suggested.

At the time, it was unclear to them whether these effects were due to the overwhelming stress of lockdowns or long-haul symptoms of the virus itself.

In a recent “long COVID” study, researchers from Charles University and General University Hospital in Prague compared the viral activity to previous illnesses such as HIV, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), and Ebola, and concluded that the neurological effects of long COVID mirror these diseases.

From the data of past epidemics, researchers concluded that the neuropsychiatric effects of long COVID are not a “purely psychological phenomena.”

Rather, the researchers hypothesize that “chronic psychological stress may increase individuals’ susceptibility to viral infection or reinfection.”

Essentially, prolonged stress causes a “positive feedback loop” where patients who fear COVID are more likely to develop long COVID neuropsychiatric conditions.

“Estimates suggest that between 20 to 30% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 develop long COVID-19 symptoms,” claimed Dr. Surendra Barshikar, who oversees the Parkland Hospital’s COVID-19 recovery clinic. “This disease can affect every organ system, head to toe.”

Within the recovery clinic, this has created a new category of patients — known as “long-haulers” — who, among various physical ailments, suffer “neurological and mental health issues including depression, anxiety and PTSD.”

Dr. Katie Croft-Caderao of Dallas CBT — an outpatient therapy and assessment clinic — told The Dallas Express in an email that “the effects of the pandemic on anxiety lives on though, and Dallas CBT is seeing more people reach out for help compared to before the pandemic.”

Nonetheless, the exact etiology of the neuropsychiatric ailments Croft-Caderao observes remains unknown.

In other words, scientific researchers have not yet conclusively determined their root cause: is it the stress of the pandemic or a neuropsychiatric condition developed through the viral infection?

Regardless, Croft-Caderao urges Dallas residents, “Move your body (any amount helps), do the things that are important and meaningful to you (especially on a smaller, day to day level), try to connect regularly with people you care about, and prioritize your sleep.”

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