There have been many reported cases of mild COVID infections turning into more troublesome long COVID cases, lasting months, if not years, with a wide array of symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, vertigo, headaches, and heart palpitations. What’s causing this? Scientists may be getting closer to the answer. A proposed hypothesis is that micro-clots throughout the body could be constricting blood flow to vital organs, like the lungs, heart and brain, leading to long COVID symptoms. This is still undergoing more testing and replication of results by other researchers (as is standard with the scientific method), but is offering some promising insights into a problem plaguing millions.
Micro-clotting isn’t anything new. In fact, scientists have observed odd, dense clots that resist breakdown in people with a variety of diseases, like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. When comparing blood samples from healthy people and people with acute COVID, diabetes, and long COVID, for both acute and long COVID patients, blood samples revealed more clotting than found in the patients with diabetes. Another study (link in comments) looked at the blood of 80 long COVID patients and found micro-clots in all samples.
It isn’t clear where these micro-clots come from – scientists think it may be from the spike protein which SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter cells. To test this, they added the spike protein to sample plasma from healthy volunteers and noted the prompt formation of abnormal clots. In patients who died from COVID-19, scientists looked at tissue samples and noticed not only micro-clots but capillaries that had split into new branches, in a desperate attempt to try to keep oxygen-rich blood flowing. However, this branching introduced turbulence in the blood flow, leading to even more clots.
Given this knowledge, what is the treatment? At this point, it is still too early to know what is safe, as the research needs to be replicated, with larger datasets of blood samples. Treatments need to go through proper clinical trials. It’s dangerous to take medication as trial-and-error, to “see what happens.” Some medication is not meant for long-term COVID-19 treatment (e.g., Ivermectin, which, in large amounts, can lead to toxicity). While I was being treated for an acute injury – a blood clot in my leg back in June – I took 3 months’ worth of anti-coagulant pills, as prescribed by a doctor. In the last few weeks, I haven’t felt nearly as out-of-breath as before, especially while climbing. I haven’t needed the inhaler. Did the blood thinner medication help me? Did it “cure” me of possible micro-clots and long COVID? Or, given it’s been nearly a year since the delta variant of COVID, has my body finally healed? I can’t possibly say, but I must say that I am intrigued by this research. It will be very interesting to follow and see how this develops, hopefully towards effective treatment for the millions suffering from long COVID.