In a recent study, scientists from Western University found the cause of long COVID symptoms.
Many people who experience what is now called “long COVID” report feeling brain fog, breathless, fatigued, and limited in doing everyday things, often lasting weeks and months post-infection.
The current study identified for the first time that these debilitating symptoms are related to microscopic abnormalities that affect how oxygen is exchanged from the lungs to the red blood cells.
In the study, the team had participants inhale polarized xenon gas while inside the MRI.
Participants were those with persistent shortness of breath more than six weeks post-infection. Some study participants were still symptomatic after 35 weeks.
With their high MRI technique, they could watch in real-time the air moving through the alveolar membrane and through to the blood cells; and they could actually see the function of the tiny alveolar sacs in the lungs.
They found that the transition of the oxygen into the red blood cells was depressed in these symptomatic patients who had had COVID-19, compared to healthy volunteers.
Further CT scans pointed to the “abnormal trimming” of the vascular tree, indicating an impact on the tiny blood vessels that deliver red blood cells to the alveoli to be oxygenated.
There also doesn’t appear to be any difference in the severity of this abnormality between patients who had been hospitalized with COVID-19, and those who recovered without hospitalization.
This is an important finding as the latest wave of COVID-19 infection has affected large numbers of people who did not need hospital-based care.
The team says for those who are symptomatic post-COVID, even if they hadn’t had a severe enough infection to be hospitalized, they could see this abnormality in the exchange of oxygen across the alveolar membrane into the red blood cells.
A one-year follow-up is now underway to better understand these results.
If you care about COVID, please read studies about why COVID-19 is severe in some people and mild in others, and this face mask can capture and deactivate the COVID-19 virus.
For more information about health, please see recent studies about whether monkeypox is the next COVID-19, and results showing a universal antibody therapy to fight all COVID-19 variants.
The research was published in Radiology and conducted by professor Grace Parraga et al.
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