For many, long COVID looks a lot like chronic fatigue

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In a new study from Johns Hopkins Medicine, researchers found similarities between certain lingering symptoms following COVID-19 illness—a condition called “long COVID”—and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

ME/CFS is a debilitating, complex disorder previously known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

The researchers say the symptoms shared by the two conditions may involve a biological response that goes haywire when the body encounters certain infections or other environmental hazards.

In the review study, the team highlights the evidence seen in both acute COVID and ME/CFS of various underlying biological disorders.

In particular, they suggest a central role for the way cells behave when too many oxygen molecules pile up in a cell—a process called oxidative stress or redox imbalance.

The team describes how redox imbalance may be connected to the inflammation and disorders of metabolism that are found in the two diseases.

The team has previously studied the role of oxidative stress in conditions such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

As of August 2021, approximately 36 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The expert team urges that some of the recent National Institutes of Health funding assigned to study the long-term health effects of COVID-19 be used to investigate both long COVID and ME/CFS.

Those studies, they believe, could shed light on other diseases characterized by oxidative stress, inflammation and metabolic disorders.

ME/CFS is a complex condition affecting 1 million to 2.5 million people in the United States.

It is characterized by a cluster of symptoms, including severe and debilitating fatigue, disrupted and unrefreshing sleep, difficulty thinking (commonly called “brain fog”), abnormalities of the autonomic nervous system and post-exertional malaise—a flare-up of multiple symptoms following physical or cognitive exertion.

The team hopes that this scientific review will spur and help focus research on the molecular basis of both long COVID and ME/CFS.

If you care about long COVID, please read studies about prolonged brain dysfunction in COVID-19 survivors and findings of 7 out of 10 COVID-19 patients in hospital will have long-haul symptoms.

For more information about long COVID, please see recent studies about signs of ‘long COVID’ can be found in eyes and results showing that many people with mild COVID-19 still have long-term symptoms.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One author of the study is Bindu Paul, Ph.D.

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