Glimmers of Hope: Post-COVID Syndrome Research
Post COVID Syndrome (PCS) has been part of our language for more than 2 years. Despite that, research on this condition has been progressing slowly. Most of the research in the world has been focused on first figuring out what PCS really looks like and how it affects different populations. While this information is important, many patients are desperate for some news on treatments. Well, today is your day.
In July 2022, a research team from Ireland published their findings on a medication called naltrexone. Naltrexone is a medication that is commonly used to reverse the effects of opioids. For example, naltrexone could be used when someone may have overdosed on a pain medication like morphine. When used for this purpose, the dosage is typically around 50mg. However, when naltrexone is used at very low doses, for example 1-4.5mg, it has shown to work mainly the immune system. With this effect, low dose naltrexone has been used for conditions such as Chron’s disease and chronic fatigue.
In this study, 38 patients with PCS were treated with low dose naltrexone. When symptoms before and after treatment were compared, a statistically significant improvement was found for fatigue, function, pain, concentration, and sleep.
Now, before everyone starts calling their favorite long haul COVID clinic, the study findings need to be interpreted cautiously. As we have discussed before, no research is perfect, and we must go beyond the title to really understand the limitations. First, this study looked at a very small population of patients. The smaller the number of participants, the less reliable the results are. In addition, the results of the group treated with naltrexone was not compared to a group of patients not treated with naltrexone. Without that comparison group, called a control group, we do not know if the reported improvements are due to naltrexone or just due to something completely separate, like the weather or green grass in Ireland. Also, the patients who were treated with naltrexone were aware they were being treated and examined. Just knowing that can sometimes change how someone feels.
Despite all those limitations, I am still excited about this study and others coming down the pike. It represents finally some first steps in treatment research, and it should be a sign of hope for patients with PCS around the world.
At this time, the Mayo Clinic specific post-COVID studies are only recruiting participants that are being seen at Mayo Clinic post-COVID clinics. If you are a patient being seen in Mayo Clinic's post-COVID clinics and would like to participate in research, please email postCovidRSCH@mayo.edu