Recovered coronavirus patients may face months of extreme fatigue and weakness, warn experts
The aftermath of the pandemic might look bleak for some recovered COVID-19 patients. Experts fear they may have to brace themselves for weeks or even months of extreme exhaustion and tiredness.
This condition is called post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome and is associated with viral infections. For example, some patients who fought off the flu have experienced fatigue. Even the SARS virus, a cousin of the new coronavirus, may have triggered chronic fatigue, believe experts.
An expert worries that the new coronavirus could also follow the path of other viral infections. “We don’t know about coronavirus, but I think it will lead to many, many cases of post-infective fatigue syndrome," Simon Wessely, former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the New Scientist.
What is post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome?
Affected patients feel exhausted for no reason. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity but doesn't improve with rest, according to Mayo Clinic.
Additionally, people afflicted with the condition also tend to experience sore throat, headache, swollen lymph nodes, unexplained muscle or joint pain, and other issues with concentration or memory.
How is it diagnosed?
Besides viruses, a weak immune system, stress, and other factors could also trigger fatigue.
Doctors cannot directly diagnose the condition. So they rule out other potential causes such as diabetes or anemia. They might also look for respiratory or cardiovascular conditions. It is not uncommon for doctors to look for abnormalities in sleep patterns, as it could also lead to fatigue.
Experts might also check for signs of depression and anxiety. "People who are prone to depression or who’ve had it in the past are more likely to have these symptoms than those who aren't prone to depression," Dr Madhukar Trivedi, director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, told the US News & World Report.
Can the new coronavirus trigger fatigue?
Researchers have linked its closer cousin, the SARS virus, to the condition. Harvey Moldofsky from the University of Toronto and his team looked at 22 patients who had recovered but were still saddled by other health issues.
They found that all participants showed signs — from disturbed sleep and fatigue to pain and weakness in muscles all over their body — consistent with the chronic fatigue syndrome.
But his team studied only a small proportion of SARS patients. They did not document the extent of fatigue experienced by SARS survivors in the country. Still, he, believes the new coronavirus will lead to many of post-infective fatigue syndrome, Moldofsky told New Scientist.
Wessley believes the risk of fatigue could heighten if the virus enters the brain. Recently, doctors have found traces of the new coronavirus in the brain fluid of a 24-year-old man.
Commenting on the topic, Charles Shepherd, a medical adviser to the ME Association, a UK patient charity, told New Scientist: “It’s quite likely that some people will be developing a post-viral fatigue syndrome, which may then lead into a Chronic fatigue Syndrom-like illness. What happens to people after acute infection is something that needs to be researched.