Frustrated by the lack of results from Western medicine, some longtime Covid patients have turned to Eastern alternatives. Many say that acupuncture has provided particular relief.
Lauren Nichols, a Massachusetts resident who was diagnosed with COVID in March 2020, estimated that over two years she had tried about 30 different pharmaceuticals to ease her migraines, brain fog, fatigue, seizures, diarrhea and other persistent symptoms.
Eventually his physical limitations – and lack of answers – became so overwhelming that he developed suicidal thoughts.
“I was so close to not being in this world,” she said.
But in May 2022, about three months after starting acupuncture, Nichols said, “I could see the clouds parting.
“Instead of having migraines four to six times a day, I was getting migraines about twice a day. And then eventually, once a day,” she said. Now, Nichols said, migraines and most other symptoms have resolved on their own thanks to a combination of alternative treatments.
According to data from a household survey conducted by the Census Bureau, as of February, about 11% of American adults who had ever had COVID were experiencing long-term COVID. Long COVID is generally defined as symptoms that last for at least three months after a coronavirus infection.
There is no standard treatment, so doctors often prescribe medications based on a person’s symptoms. Some chronic COVID patients take steroids, while others use antiviral drugs or drugs designed to treat seizures, high blood pressure, or muscle weakness.
Doctors readily admit that it is a trial-and-error process, and not all patients find relief.
“There has been an unfortunate pattern of [long Covid] Patients are going to doctors and not feeling like they’re getting what they need, or feeling like they’re trying all these drugs and not getting the results they want. want,” Dr. Meenakshi “Cosmos” Kumar, a family medicine specialist at Beth Israel Lahey Health Primary Care – The Marino Center for Integrated Health.
Kumar, who treated Nichols, said he often suggests acupuncture to chronic Covid patients, even though there isn’t clinical data to support that particular use.
Although some research is going on. A clinical study in the UK is giving people with long-term COVID 15-minute acupuncture treatments for six weeks, and those in a control group having “semi-structured” phone consultations with a therapist.
Dr Imogen Locke, a clinical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, is leading the study and said she does not expect full results until 2025. ,
“Obviously, we have to wait and see when the data is unlocked,” she said.
Studying the effects of acupuncture is challenging
Elizabeth Joyce, a medical radiographer at the Royal Marsden Hospital, said she entered Locke’s trial after almost two years of long Covid.
“I just had this terrible muscle fatigue, like I’d run four marathons a day,” she said.
After receiving acupuncture three weeks through the trial, Joyce said she felt energetic enough to go running. She continued acupuncture on her own after the trial, and her muscle fatigue had almost resolved, she said.
Locke said, however, that studies like theirs come with challenges. Although some research has found that acupuncture may help reduce chronic pain, fatigue or inflammation, in such studies people receiving a placebo know that the needles are not piercing their skin.
“Is there a good, strong evidence base for acupuncture? The answer is probably no because of the difficulties and methodological challenges of studying acupuncture,” Locke said.
Some doctors worry that overall, the lack of long-term Covid treatment leaves patients vulnerable to predatory providers.
“Too many people are venting their desperation by offering strategies that haven’t really been thoroughly tested and can be dangerous and costly in some cases,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and scientist at Yale University. Is.”
Krumholz said it’s not clear why some patients respond to Eastern treatments.
“They may be getting a benefit because of the placebo effect. But to be honest, at this stage, if it makes them feel better, it’s still making them feel better.”
Sometimes, though, alternative therapies can have harmful side effects, according to Michelle Haddad, who runs the Post-Covid Neuropsychology Clinic at Emory Rehabilitation Hospital.
“A lot of times people think, ‘Oh, it’s the herb,’ or ‘Oh, it’s a nutrient. It can’t be harmful to me,’ and it can. It’s very important that people tell their providers Keep informed,” she said.
Many chronic Covid patients swear by acupuncture
Rachel Villalobos, who lives in Seaside, California, decided to try acupuncture after battling high blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, chest pain, heart palpitations and dark spots in her vision – the effects of a Covid infection in January 2022.
Villalobos gave birth to her daughter while testing positive for Covid, then went to the emergency room several months later after fainting at a friend’s barbecue. A doctor eventually diagnosed her with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, a nervous system disorder that makes it difficult to stay upright.
“I would just faint,” Villalobos said. “I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t take my steps in my house because I would just fall over. I couldn’t even lift my head for a while.”
Villalobos said she took blood pressure medication, a steroid, over-the-counter pain relievers and Benadryl.
But with acupuncture, she said, “everything seemed to calm down.” She said, her heartbeat has stopped.
Christine Kaiser, clinical manager of acupuncture and quality at University Hospitals Conner Whole Health in Ohio, estimated that at least 75% of her chronic Covid patients responded well to acupuncture, even though many were reluctant to try it. were hesitating.
“They are frustrated and I think maybe a little skeptical — like, they’ve tried so many things, what’s this going to do? But they’re willing to try it,” she said.
Kaiser pointed out that many chronic COVID symptoms were similar to those practitioners addressed with acupuncture prior to the pandemic.
“Acupuncture reduces inflammation. It regulates the autonomic nervous system, helps increase blood flow, helps release neurochemicals in the brain,” she said.
combination of approaches
Long-term COVID patients usually receive acupuncture in conjunction with other interventions such as medications or supplements.
Villalobos contains, among other things, ashwagandha, an herb used in traditional Indian medicine. Nichols underwent intravenous ozone therapy and ultraviolet blood irradiation, and also took naltrexone, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder. Early research suggests that it might help reduce an overactive immune response.
Alisa Bolling, a retired nurse in Parkland, Florida, said that after going from doctor to doctor in search of a Covid treatment for a long time, she now relies on meditation, acupuncture and a supplement that contains boswellia, a traditional Chinese, Middle Eastern herb. An herbal extract used in Eastern and traditional Chinese medicine. Indian Medicine.
“It sounds crazy, but it works,” Bolling said. “As a nurse, especially, I exhausted every opportunity.”
Depending on the patient, a mixture of adaptogenic herbs or turmeric may be recommended, Kumar said. But Eastern medicine can be expensive and is often not covered by insurance, which can hinder access. Kumar said most of the tall Covid patients at Beth Israel Lahey Health were white women.
Specialist visits and prescription drugs can also be expensive.
Nichols estimates that she spent $30,000 to $40,000 out-of-pocket before trying acupuncture.
“I wanted to spend that money on [alternative] treatments because they are actually more curative and more helpful to me,” she said. “Western treatments are nothing short of a waste of money.”