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For some longtime Covid patients, acupuncture offers relief


Frustrated by the lack of results from Western medicine, some long-time Covid patients have turned to Eastern alternatives. Many say that acupuncture, in particular, has brought relief.

Lauren Nichols, a Massachusetts resident who contracted Covid in March 2020, estimated that over the course of two years she had tried about 30 different pharmaceuticals to relieve her migraines, brain fog, fatigue, seizures, diarrhea and dizziness. other lasting symptoms.

Eventually, her physical limitations – and her lack of responses – became so overwhelming that she developed suicidal thoughts.

Courtesy of Lauren Nichols

“I was very close to not being of this world,” she said.

But about three months after starting acupuncture in May 2022, Nichols said: “I could see the clouds starting to part.

“Instead of having migraines about four to six times a day at worst, I was having them about twice a day. And then eventually, once a day,” she said. Now, Nichols said, the migraines and most other symptoms have resolved, thanks to a combination of alternative therapies.

In February, about 11% of American adults who had already had Covid had long Covid, according to data from a household survey conducted by the Census Bureau. Long Covid is generally defined as having symptoms that last for at least three months after a coronavirus infection.

There is no standard treatment, so doctors often prescribe medication based on an individual’s symptoms. Some long-time Covid patients take steroids, while others use antiviral drugs or drugs designed to treat seizures, high blood pressure or muscle weakness.

Doctors readily acknowledge that this is a trial and error process and not all patients find relief.

“There has been an unfortunate pattern of [long Covid] patients go to the doctor and don’t feel like they’re getting what they need, or feel like they’re trying all these drugs and they’re not getting the result they want” , said Dr. Meenakshi “Cosmos” Kumar, a family physician specialist at Beth Israel Lahey Health Primary Care – The Marino Center for Integrated Health.

Kumar, who treats Nichols, said they often suggest acupuncture to long Covid patients, even though there is no clinical data to support that particular use.

However, some research is ongoing. A clinical study in the UK is giving people with Covid long 15-minute weekly acupuncture treatments for six weeks, and those in a control group “semi-structured” telephone consultations with a clinician.

Dr Imogen Locke, a clinical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, is leading the study and said she doesn’t expect full results until 2025.”

“Obviously we have to wait for the data to be unlocked,” she said.

Studying the effects of acupuncture is a challenge

Elizabeth Joyce, a therapeutic radiologist at Royal Marsden Hospital, said she entered Locke’s trial after nearly two years of Covid.

“I just had this terrible muscle fatigue, like I ran four marathons a day,” she said.

After receiving three weeks of acupuncture during the trial, Joyce said she felt energetic enough to go for a run. She continued acupuncture on her own after the trial, and her muscle fatigue is almost resolved, she said.

Locke noted, however, that studies like his come with challenges. Although some research has shown that acupuncture may help reduce chronic pain, fatigue, or inflammation, people receiving a placebo in such studies know that the needles do not puncture their skin.

“Is there a good solid database for acupuncture? The answer is probably no, due to the methodological difficulties and challenges of conducting studies on acupuncture,” Locke said.

Some doctors worry that overall the lack of long Covid treatments leaves patients vulnerable to predatory providers.

“Many people take advantage of their desperation by offering strategies that really haven’t been fully tested and which, in some cases, can be dangerous and expensive,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and scientist at the University. from Yale.

Krumholz said it’s not clear why some patients seem to respond to Eastern therapies.

“They may benefit from it due to a placebo effect. But honestly, at this point, if it makes them feel better, it always helps them feel better,” he said.

Sometimes, however, alternative therapies can have harmful side effects, according to Michelle Haddad, who runs a post-Covid neuropsychology clinic at Emory Rehabilitation Hospital.

“A lot of times people think, ‘Oh, it’s herbs’ or ‘Oh, it’s a nutrient. It can’t be harmful to me,” and it can. It’s very important that people keep their suppliers informed,” she said.

Many long-time patients swear by acupuncture

Rachel Villalobos, who lives in Seaside, California, decided to try acupuncture last fall after dealing with high blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, chest pain, heart palpitations and spotting. dark in his vision – the effects of a Covid infection in January 2022.

Villalobos gave birth to her daughter when she tested positive for Covid, then went to the emergency room several months later after she passed out at a friend’s barbecue. A doctor eventually diagnosed him with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, a nervous system disorder that makes it difficult to stand upright.

Rachel Villalobos
Courtesy of Rachel Villalobos

“I just want to pass out,” Villalobos said. “I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t climb our steps in our house because I would fall. For a moment, I couldn’t even hold my head up.

Villalobos said she took blood pressure medication, a steroid, over-the-counter painkillers and Benadryl.

But with acupuncture, she says, “everything seemed to calm down.” Her heart palpitations stopped, she said.

Christine Kaiser, clinical manager for acupuncture and quality at Connor Whole Health University Hospitals in Ohio, estimated that at least 75% of her long Covid patients responded well to acupuncture, although many were hesitant to try it.

“They’re frustrated and I’m thinking maybe a little skeptical – like, they’ve tried so many things, what’s this going to do? But they are willing to try,” she said.

Kaiser explained that many long-lasting Covid symptoms were similar to those practitioners had treated with acupuncture before the pandemic.

“Acupuncture reduces inflammation. It regulates that autonomic nervous system, helps increase blood flow, helps release neurochemicals in the brain,” she said.

A combination of approaches

Long Covid patients typically undertake acupuncture in concert with other interventions, such as medications or supplements.

Villalobos takes, among other things, ashwagandha, an herb used in traditional Indian medicine. Nichols is undergoing intravenous ozone therapy and ultraviolet blood irradiation, and is also taking naltrexone, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder. Early research suggests it may help temper an overactive immune response.

Alisa Bolling, a retired nurse from Parkland, Florida, said after bouncing from doctor to doctor seeking lengthy Covid treatments, she now relies on meditation, acupuncture and a supplement containing boswellia, a herbal extract used in traditional Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian medicine.

“It sounds crazy, but it works,” Bolling said. “As a nurse, especially, I have exhausted all possibilities.”

Kumar said that depending on the patient, a blend of adaptogenic herbs or turmeric might be recommended. But oriental medicine can be expensive and is often not covered by insurance, which can hinder access. Kumar said most of Beth Israel Lahey Health’s long Covid patients were white women.

Visits to a specialist and prescription drugs can also be expensive.

Nichols estimated that she spent between $30,000 and $40,000 before trying acupuncture.

“I would have preferred to spend this money on these [alternative] treatments because they are actually more healing and supportive for me,” she said. “Western treatments have been nothing short of a waste of money.”

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