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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

St. Louis doctor studying treatment for long COVID-19 symptoms

One patient says life is nearly “back to normal” for her, after more than a year of debilitating side effects

ST. LOUIS — “Breakthrough” doesn’t typically describe a good thing in relation to COVID-19, but in this case, it’s about the research that could bring some relief to those living with the virus long after they actually get sick.

Dr. Leonard Weinstock, a gastroenterologist with Missouri Baptist Hospital, noticed a link between typical “long COVID-19” symptoms and that of another condition: “Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.”

Long COVID can be difficult to pinpoint or describe due to a wide range of symptoms, often including fatigue, cognitive dysfunction (“brain fog”), nerve or muscle issues, fast heart rate, and breathing issues. These can often be debilitating. Dr. Weinstock says about 44 percent of those hospitalized, and about ten percent of those who have a mild infection can suffer from long COVID.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is essentially a condition where specific immune cells in the body turn against them.

“Basically, the mast cell is the captain of the immune system,” explained Dr. Weinstock. “This mast cell goes out into the periphery and tells other mast cells and inflammatory cells to act up by releasing chemicals. And these chemicals are widespread and many in number and volume. And that causes inflammation or allergic phenomenon to occur in the body.”

This connection led to months of research and findings now published in International Journal of Infectious Diseases, detailing that treating long COVID with the same vitamins, antihistamines, and other medications as mast cell activation syndrome can provide relief. 

Dr. Weinstock says this and similar research can help doctors know how to treat people who come in with these symptoms.

“This has enormous impact on the country, on society, on business, on workers, patients, and health care workers who are infected. They are losing their jobs because they literally can’t function fatigue, severe fatigue, and brain fog,” he said.

One of his patients is Larissa McPherson, an active mother of teenagers and a pediatric speech-language pathologist who had what doctors believe to be a COVID-19 infection in early 2020. Once the coughing cleared up, she began experiencing fast heart rate, brain fog, vision issues, and a severe ringing in her ears that has permanently damaged her hearing. The former marathon racer can hardly run nearly two years after her illness.

“Feel blessed if you’re one of the lucky ones that it’s kind of just a flu for you because I am sure that there’s somebody that you know, somebody that you love, they’re having a totally different experience,” she said. “This is something that even if it does not take your life, it might take life from you.” 

A plea for help on Facebook connected her with Dr. Weinstock, whose treatment with MCAS vitamins and medications has been transformative for her. 

“Within a few days, I would say I noticed a difference,” she said. “I can lead a pretty much normal life.”

She hopes by sharing her story, others will feel empowered to discuss treatment options with their physicians — and know they aren’t alone.

“There are doctors out there who will listen to them and will follow through, and there is hope for getting better,” she said.

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