Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Managing my Post-Covid Symptoms

Like 1 in 10 people who've had Covid-19, I'm still suffering symptoms months after infection. I fell ill with Covid-19 on March 13th and experienced relatively mild symptoms from the initial infection. It was not a pleasant experience by any stretch of the imagination, but I was not close to needing hospital treatment. You would therefore think I would immediately recover and get back to normal, right? Wrong!

I distinctly remember in the days after I'd "recovered", feeling a sudden and intense burst of energy. I could not sit still so I was out mowing the lawn and doing every job in the house and feeling surprisingly fantastic. I'm back to normal now, I thought. And then the fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. I spent about two days mostly sleeping. My chest was tightening up and I was feeling strange palpitations which were really unnerving. 

Since then, these symptoms have been a regular occurrence, along with dizziness and drowsiness. I tried a light bit of exercise once and my legs turned to jelly afterwards. My arms were shaking like an old man's. It was really quite pathetic! 

And yet when I was doing nothing, I felt mostly okay. The symptoms would come and go, but they were bearable on the condition I lazed around. Only problem was I was getting seriously restless and desperate to return to normal. Plus, I have 3 kids to look after.

So I began reading up on post-Covid symptoms, on post-viral fatigue, and on research showing some people with an initially mild infection were now suffering inflammation of the heart and lungs, and some even showed signs of permanent damage. These people were an increased heart attack risk and I was exhibiting the same symptoms. Even more worryingly, a friend of mine tragically died of a heart attack at just 37 and we have no way of knowing if it was Covid-related.

Sometimes lying in bed at night, I could feel an aching in my heart and lungs. It was never severe to the point I felt I was having a heart attack, but it was rather unsettling. I didn't know what to do. I did not want to burden the NHS when others needed hospital far more than me. I called the doctor a few times and never got an answer, so I decided to start figuring this out and then something really obvious struck me.

Back in 2011, I suffered a nasty bout of food poisoning and ever since, I've suffered from IBS and a minor sugar intolerance. No one knows the cause for sure, but I've always felt it was an auto-immune response triggered by foods and resulting in inflammation. I wondered if something similar could be happening in my chest and then I started to notice a link.

My IBS has certain trigger foods like chocolate, for example. After 9 years of management, I've realised what doses of these trigger foods are safe to eat before they become problematic. But since Covid, my body appears to have a heightened sensitivity. Eating anything at all is triggering the tightness in my chest, but if I eat even a little junk food, it's five times worse.

I've always had an overactive immune system. I react to pretty much anything and I suspect those 1 in 10 who are suffering long term like me are much the same. I'm now carefully avoiding anything that I might react to, and focusing on relaxing my body, cleaning up my admittedly imperfect diet, reducing my food intake and drinking plenty of water. The result is my chest does not feel quite as tight. The inflammation is generally lower and the fatigue less severe. The symptoms still flare up after eating, but usually not to the same extreme. I feel a little more energetic too, but I'm far from 100%. I'm now utterly convinced my post-Covid symptoms are the result of an overactive immune system.

Post-viral fatigue can typically last for six months and I'm at 4 and a half months. Hopefully, this problem will clear up on its own soon, but given I've suffered IBS problems 9 years after food poisoning, I must consider this may be a life long issue. At least it seems to be one that can be mitigated through healthy living choices though. If anyone is going through this ordeal, I strongly recommend bearing the above in mind and adopting as clean a lifestyle as possible. It really might help you.

From what I've read, the best way to reduce inflammation is to reduce blood sugar, lose weight, keep stress levels low, and avoid inflammatory foods like trans fats. Eat good foods like fresh fruit and vegetables and fish, and drink lots of water. Obviously, many of us can't afford to eat perfectly, but improve your shopping habits where possible and you should see a difference.

One important thing to note: Please do not self-medicate with over the counter anti-inflammatories as these may increase heart attack risk. Please speak to a doctor if your symptoms are getting out of hand.

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