Covid-19Long COVID Added To List of Autoimmune Diseases: Here's What We Know

Long COVID Added To List of Autoimmune Diseases: Here’s What We Know

As millions worldwide continue to be impacted by COVID-19, there’s still so much that is unknown about the long-term effects infection has on our health. For instance, understanding Long COVID, the post-COVID syndrome that can linger for months after infection, has been a dizzying phenomenon to make sense of as an array of more than 200 symptoms can follow even after a mild or asymptomatic infection. Cardiac complications, neurological issues, and fatigue are just a few examples.

Last month, The Autoimmune Registry, a non-profit organization that provides research and statistics on all autoimmune diseases, added Long COVID to its registry. It’s estimated that as many as 50% of people who contract COVID-19 go on to develop post-acute sequelae from the virus and currently there is no cure or treatment for symptoms. 

Why Is Long COVID on the Autoimmune Disease Registry?

Long COVID is an Autoimmune Disease

The immune system is a complex network of tissues, cells, and organs that help the body fight off infections and other diseases. It protects you by attacking invaders like germs and destroys them. However, with an autoimmune disease, the immune system is essentially attacking itself, going after healthy cells in your organs and tissues by mistake.
With Long COVID, the source of many symptoms may not be from the COVID-19 virus itself, but rather the immune system’s response to it. Severe cases may be associated with an immune response that is hyperactive, both in ill and healthy individuals.
Moreover, it’s been widely reported that a “cytokine storm,” a severe immune reaction where the body releases too many cytokines into the blood too quickly, is associated with COVID-19 “long haulers.” Cytokines play an important role in normal immune responses but having a large amount released in the body can be harmful and even raise the risk of death. 
Some “cytokine storm” symptoms include:
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Another reason the post-COVID syndrome has been added to the autoimmune disease registry is that it appears to overlap with some autoimmune diseases

For example, “myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, is an autoimmune disease associated with patients with COVID-19, and in rare cases, in those who have also been vaccinated. Additionally, blood clots similar to those found in the autoimmune disease antiphospholpid antibody syndrome have been reported in patients with COVID-19 and those with Long COVID,” says the registry.

Research also shows that people with Long COVID were more likely to have markers of autoimmune disease in their blood than those fully recovered from COVID-19 or who had never been infected. Markers of autoimmune disease include inflammation as well as two particular types of autoantibodies instrumental in the detection of autoimmune disorders, such as antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and extractable nuclear antigens (ENA).

With that said, Long COVID joins other suspected associations between viral infection and autoimmune diseases, like the Epstein-Barr virus as the suspected cause of Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) or the Coxsackie virus as the suspected cause of myocarditis. Much more research is needed to better understand this chronic health condition that affects millions, but hopefully having Long COVID on the list of autoimmune diseases is a step towards treatment and ultimately a cure.

Looking for a Long COVID Support Group?

From brain fog and fatigue to depression and anxiety, symptoms of Long COVID can be debilitating and isolating. But you don’t have to go through it alone. One of the most helpful things you can do when living with an autoimmune disease is connect with others who understand your pain and frustration. See what others are sharing about their own experiences with chronic pain and illness through the Pain Resource Community online. Additionally, if you would like to participate in clinical research for this condition you can do so by signing up at The Autoimmune Registry.

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