Researchers at Newcastle University have made a potential breakthrough in the cause of Long Covid, which could lead to better treatments. The Chronicle reports that the team have found that people suffering from the condition had a nervous system that is underactive in certain key areas.

Long Covid, sometimes also known as post Covid-19 syndrome, is used to describe symptoms of Covid that last longer than four weeks. It is estimated that over two million people in the UK have been affected by the condition. The most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell, and muscle aches.

However, last year, the list of symptoms was expanded to include erectile dysfunction, hair loss, amnesia, hallucinations, bowel incontinence, and limb swelling. The research into the potential causes and treatments of Long Covid is ongoing. One theory is that it causes the immune system to go into overdrive and attack its own tissues.

Now, researchers at Newcastle University may be able to shed some more light on the condition. They carried out a range of behavioural and neurophysiological tests on patients, and concluded that there was an “imbalance in the autonomic nervous system” and “muscle abnormalities”.

Dr Demetris Soteropoulos, senior lecturer in motor systems neuroscience at Newcastle University led the research. He said: “These abnormalities in the results on objective tests show that fatigue in Long Covid is a measurable disease and these tests may, in time, help us understand how changes in the nervous system contribute to fatigue.”

Research associate Dr Anne Baker added: “We know that many people have faced criticism or even disbelief when they report long Covid, so by being able to provide an independent measure, we can help medical teams provide continued support.”

Her colleague Natalie Maffitt added: “Following on from these findings, we are beginning testing at Newcastle University on whether the autonomic nervous system can be modulated to improve symptoms in post-Covid fatigue.”

“ We’re examining a non-invasive method which involves clipping an earpiece to the tragus on the ear and delivering small electrical currents to the vagus nerve using a TENS machine – familiar to many through its use for pain relief during childbirth.”

Anyone who has had symptoms of Covid for four weeks or more is advised to contact their GP who may carry out tests, including a blood pressure check, a chest X-ray, and blood tests. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the patient may be referred to a specialist clinic to receive further support.

People with initially mild symptoms of Covid are just as prone to developing long-term symptoms as those who suffered from a severe bout of the disease. At present, patients are advised on how best to manage their symptoms as there is no official treatment available.

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