The majority of long-term covid (“long covid”) patients show a hypersensitive nervous system which results in extreme fatigue and a lack of concentration, a Belgian study found.
More than 70% of people suffering from a coronavirus infection more than six months after contracting the virus showed signs of increased sensitivity of the central nervous system (aka ‘central sensitisation’) and indicated that it has a major impact on their quality of life, according to research by UZ Brussel and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
“Central sensitisation means that the brain can interpret a signal as pain without there actually being an acute problem or real damage in the body,” Professor Maarten Moens, an UZ Brussel neurosurgeon specialised in chronic pain, said.
“Moreover, the body starts to react more and more strongly, resulting in vague but serious complaints. And the more severe the complaints, the greater the impact on health-related quality of life and functional limitations.”
This central sensitisation, which is often seen in patients with certain chronic pain conditions, can lead to symptoms from extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness to concentration disorders, anxiety and depression.
As a result, 20% of the 567 surveyed patients suffering from long-covid reported that they are unable to carry out daily family, work or leisure activities.
Some 40% of participants also reported being less mobile, while 3% indicated they had become bedridden.
Improving rehabilitation process
These results highlight the impact of chronic symptoms and the researchers stress the need for pain education and cognitive behavioural therapy in patients showing symptoms of central sensitisation during rehabilitation.
“This means that they learn to understand what pain is and what adjustments happen in the body when central sensitisation occurs. They should also be provided with methods for dealing with these specific symptoms.”
A recent survey by Belgium’s Federal Knowledge Centre for Health (KCE) found that approximately one in seven coronavirus patients suffers from long-term covid; it can affect people in all age groups but is most common in patients between the ages of 35 and 69.
The chances of developing this condition are also “significantly higher in patients who were hospitalised during the acute phase of an infection.”
The online survey of 1,320 people showed that people with long-covid said their physical state had deteriorated, citing abnormal, excessive fatigue that does not improve even after resting, or abnormal shortness of breath, “even in people who were previously very athletic.”