As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, medical professionals and researchers have begun to notice that recovering from COVID is not as simple as recovering from many other viral infections. The initial symptoms that occur while someone is infected, such as a fever, cough, and fatigue, are all expected – but what many people are still unaware of are the aftereffects of COVID-19.
The fact that certain symptoms can stick around long after recovery from an illness is not a new revelation, though. People who have had Lyme disease know all too well that getting over the initial infection is not always the end of the battle, and people with long COVID are learning this as well. But what is long COVID, exactly? And what does it have to do with Lyme disease?
What is long COVID?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “long COVID” or “post-COVID conditions” are defined as new, returning, or ongoing health issues following recovery from an initial COVID-19 infection. These symptoms can occur in anyone who has contracted the virus, even those who did not have symptoms initially during their infection.
Several symptoms of long COVID have been commonly reported among people who have overcome the initial infection. These ongoing symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing or a shortness of breath
- Fatigue or general tiredness
- Worsening symptoms following physical or mental activities
- Brain fog (difficulty with thinking or concentrating)
- Pain in the chest or stomach
- Heart palpitations (fast-beating or pounding heart)
- Pain in the muscles or joints
- Feeling of pins and needles in various parts of the body
- Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea
- Sleep disturbances
- Feeling lightheaded after standing
- Changes in mood
- Changes in a person’s period cycle
- Changes in ability to smell and/or taste
These symptoms can appear in different combinations for different people depending on which part of the body the COVID infection affected the most. If the virus caused damage to more than one organ during the infection, people may experience problems with most or all of their organs including the heart, kidneys, lungs, skin, and brain.
Autoimmune conditions have also developed following COVID-infections. Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system cannot tell the difference between healthy cells and pathogens, and thus begins to attack healthy cells in the body by mistake.
These long COVID conditions and symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
What is persistent Lyme disease?
Like long COVID, persistent Lyme disease causes symptoms that last well after treatment has finished. Also known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and brain fog have been shown to affect some people who have recovered from the initial case of Lyme disease for more than six months after treatment.
Other symptoms of PTLDS can include:
- Ringing in the ears, otherwise known as tinnitus
- Short-term memory loss
- Sensitivity to both light and sound
- Mood swings and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression
- Heart palpitations
- Serious heart problems
It is not clear why some Lyme patients experience PTLDS and others do not. However, some medical professionals believe that the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can trigger an autoimmune response in the body that leads to the lingering symptoms. It could also be caused by a continued infection if the bacteria managed to evade initial treatment.
Long COVID and chronic Lyme disease
For a long time, chronic Lyme disease has been disregarded, and many people with the condition have had to suffer the symptoms without much help. This dismissal of the after-effects of Lyme disease is frustrating for those experiencing it, particularly as they continue to search for treatment options or simply acknowledgement that what they are going through is real (and often debilitating).
Recent insights into long COVID have shed a new light on other diseases that linger long after recovery from the initial infection. Because of its prevalence, long COVID may have indirectly begun to shed light on persistent Lyme disease. For example, the fight for proper testing and treatment measures that those with persistent Lyme disease have had to undergo for decades may benefit from the recognition of long COVID, which is a similar condition.
Long COVID is also being taken seriously by medical professionals across the globe. In many cases, people with a long-haul illness in the past have often been treated as if they were hypochondriacs or overreacting about their symptoms. Now that doctors are seeing firsthand, and in copious amounts, the health effects of another long-haul illness, the medical profession is well placed to recognize that, PTLDS is real and requires a different medical approach than a typical Lyme disease infection.