Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs for COVID Long Haulers: A Case Study

One in three people who contract COVID-19 will suffer from lingering symptoms according to CDC estimates. These patients are referred to as “long haulers”. Because of the widespread infection rates, hundreds of thousands of patients in the United States may be left with lingering symptoms.

Traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy, can treat these ongoing symptoms.

Case study:

Sophia, a 59 year old woman (name changed to protect privacy), at 5 feet 7 inches and 150 pounds, contracted COVID-19 in late June 2020 and was referred to me in late August by her physician for treatment of ongoing fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. Initial COVID infection was found upon a routine screening test prior to colonoscopy, and ensuing symptoms consisted of muscle aches, low grade fever (never over 100.2), fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. 

Our first visit was September 8th 2020, when she complained of lingering, mild dizziness and nausea, but profound fatigue, requiring daily naps of 1.5 hours despite sleeping well at night for 7-9 hours. Her appetite was slightly decreased, bowel movements were nearly daily and formed, urination was normal per patient. She denied thirst, sweating, or hot or cold sensations. Pre-infection activity level had been yoga 3xs per week and light strength for upper body 3xs per week, all of which she had greatly reduced since infection. She was more easily out of breath since infection, but able to exercise without increased fatigue. She also complained of jaw tension and pain. 

Treatment:

Acupuncture weekly for 12 sessions combined with customized Chinese herbal granules.

Progress: 

After one session fatigue was unchanged but she experienced no nausea and only one episode of lightheadedness. By her third session, she was not napping as often during the day and had no episodes of dizziness and nausea hadn’t returned. At the fifth session, she had only napped once in the past week and had not experienced dizziness or nausea. By the sixth treatment she had no fatigue in the afternoons and through the 11th treatment she maintained her improvement, no longer experiencing any fatigue, nausea or dizziness. At her sixth appointment, upon patient request, treatment broadened to address her jaw tension with acupuncture and her right thumb joint pain with laser acupuncture aka photobiomodulation. The patient tolerated the herbal formula, laser, and the acupuncture sessions without any side effects. 

This outcome demonstrates how helpful an approach that combines acupuncture and customized Chinese herbal medicine may be for chronic post-COVID symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. The potential for impacting the public health by treating this widespread condition can’t be overstated given the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus and the sheer number of affected individuals. Patient-centered, Traditional Chinese medicine can be considered as a time-tested, safe treatment option for “long hauler” patients suffering from fatigue and other symptoms.

Next time: Case study on COVID long hauler with symptoms of anxiety, indigestion, and fatigue

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