The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions worldwide, and even after recovery from the acute phase, some individuals continue to experience lingering symptoms, known as Long COVID. In this blog, we delve into Long COVID from an East Asian medical perspective, exploring how acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be valuable treatment options. By integrating traditional wisdom with scientific research, we aim to shed light on holistic approaches to support recovery from Long COVID.
What is Long COVID?
Long COVID, a Complex Post-Viral Syndrome, refers to the persistent symptoms experienced by individuals even after the initial recovery from COVID-19 lasting more than 4 weeks.
If symptoms persist for longer than 12 weeks are are not explained by an alternative diagnosis, it is called post-COVID-19 condition/syndrome.
The symptoms can vary widely and affect different systems of the body. From fatigue and brain fog to respiratory issues and joint pain, Long COVID poses unique challenges for both patients and healthcare providers.
Treatment from a Western Medical Perspective
Western medical treatments for Long COVID often involve a symptom management approach, aiming to alleviate specific symptoms and improve overall functioning. These treatments may include medications to address pain, fatigue, or respiratory issues, as well as therapies such as physical rehabilitation, cognitive-behavioural therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation.
The Holistic Approach of East Asian Medicine
East Asian Medicine, including acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, offers an holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It emphasises restoring the balance of energy (Qi) and harmonising the body, mind, and spirit. This comprehensive approach aligns well with the complexities of Long COVID, addressing both physical and psychological symptoms.
Acupuncture for Long Covid Symptom Management
Research suggests that acupuncture may offer benefits in managing symptoms commonly experienced in Long COVID, such as fatigue, pain, respiratory issues, and cognitive difficulties. By targeting specific acupuncture points, practitioners aim to restore balance and support the body’s natural healing processes.
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Immune Support and Recovery
Chinese herbal medicine, often used in conjunction with acupuncture, can play a significant role in supporting immune function and promoting recovery from Long COVID. Chinese herbs are carefully selected and combined to create tailored formulas that address individual symptoms and imbalances. These herbal formulas aim to strengthen the body’s resilience, boost immune function, and alleviate specific symptoms associated with Long COVID.
Lingering Pathogens: Gu Syndrome in East Asian Medicine
In the realm of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is a long-standing recognition and treatment approach for protracted illnesses following viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections. Referred to as Gu syndrome, this ancient diagnosis identifies the presence of lingering pathogens that can give rise to persistent symptoms.
The term “gu” translates to “possession” and is represented by the image of three worms inside a vessel, symbolising the enduring impact of these pathogens. Patients often describe not feeling quite right since recovering from a specific cold or flu, which may not have received an official medical diagnosis due to the scarcity of global pandemics until recent times. With the widespread impact of COVID-19, addressing Gu syndrome has become increasingly vital.
Gu syndrome can manifest in two primary forms: Brain Gu and Gut Gu.
Brain Gu: Affects the nervous system, leading to symptoms such as headaches, pain, anxiety, and depression.
Gut Gu: Affects the digestive system, presenting symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, loss of appetite, stomach or abdominal pain, and heartburn.
It is common for both Gut and Brain Gu to occur concurrently, with fatigue and mental fogginess being potential shared symptoms.
Understanding and effectively addressing Gu syndrome through the lens of East Asian Medicine can offer valuable insights and treatment options for those experiencing lingering symptoms following infectious illnesses. By incorporating modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and lifestyle modifications, practitioners can help individuals find relief and support their overall well-being.
The comprehensive approach of East Asian Medicine can contribute to the management and resolution of Gu syndrome, fostering a path towards healing and restored vitality.
Integrating East Asian Medicine with Conventional Care
Long COVID presents ongoing challenges for individuals recovering from the acute phase of COVID-19. Interating East Asian Medicine into the treatment plan can provide holistic support in managing symptoms and facilitating recovery. An integrative approach that combines East Asian Medicine with Western medical care can be valuable. It is important that the integration of treatments be guided by a qualified healthcare professional who can tailor the treatment plan to the individual’s specific needs and preferences.
By combining traditional wisdom with scientific research, East Asian Medicine offers a comprehensive approach that addresses the complex and varied manifestations of Long COVID to assist individuals on their path to recovery.
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- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2021). Acupuncture: In Depth. Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture-in-depth 2.
- Leem, J., Kim, S., & Shin, J. (2021). The Efficacy and Safety of Acupuncture for Treating Post-acute COVID-19 Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Medicine, 8, 774345. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2021.774345
- Luo, H., Tang, Q., Shang, S., Liang, S., Yang, M., Robinson, N., & Liu, J. (2021). Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine for Postacute COVID-19 Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021, 6646033. doi: 10.1155/2021/6646033