With Covid-19 and Long Covid on the rampage, the concept of fatigue has become better known to the general public. What do you need to know about this condition of extreme physical, mental and emotional exhaustion?
The word fatigue comes from Latin (fatigatio = fatigue). Since the advent of SARS-CoV-2, and Long Covid disease in particular, fatigue has now become a common term in many languages. Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion is one of the most common symptoms of Long Covid worldwide. Fatigue has been well understood in oncology and cancer therapy for a long time, as it often occurs during tumour treatment.
“Fatigue is one of many possible long-term consequences of Covid-19,” says internist and Mayr physician at Park Igls, Dr Irene Brunhuber. However, there is still a dearth of long-term studies and research on this topic, which is currently being studied intensively, for example, at the Charité-Fatigue-Zentrum in Berlin. As an internist, Dr Brunhuber is following these developments with great interest, as well as relevant studies and research results worldwide. “We just don’t know enough yet. In any case, it is positive that fatigue is widely discussed as an illness, because those affected (apart from the symptoms) still suffer greatly from the fact that it is too rarely diagnosed correctly,” says Dr Brunhuber.
Not having one’s complaints taken seriously is always a problem for every patient. Because Long Covid was completely new, it hit and still hits people suffering from fatigue with full force: “People suffering from this condition who claimed exhaustion were simply told ‘yeah, we’re all exhausted, so what you’re experiencing can’t be that bad.’ I also know that such patients are often considered to be going through something psychosomatic. In reality, however, this can be a serious misdiagnosis,” says Brunhuber.
What Brunhuber tells us about people who have been diagnosed with fatigue after Covid-19 is truly depressing. Even one of her friends also suffered from this condition terribly. She is a doctor herself, a mother of three teenage sons, and the “type of woman where you say to yourself: She takes care of her health, she’s very active at work and in her private life, and she’s really physically fit. And even though she lives her life at a fast pace, she has her job, her private life, her responsibilities totally under control. She’s the type of person who really has things together,” says Brunhuber, describing her doctor friend. Today, more than a year after the illness and after a one-month stay in rehab, she is back at her job. But she still doesn’t feel fit, not like she did before.
Smallest errands in everyday life are no longer manageable
“It’s hard to imagine, but it’s like when you just pull the plug. Fit people are no longer able to cope with their normal routines. Sufferers often say it’s impossible for them to even make a telephone call. The smallest, supposedly simple and self-evident tasks in everyday life suddenly no longer seem manageable,” says Irene Brunhuber, describing the information given by those affected. “This has enormous consequences on their professional and private lives.” Even though there is not yet enough concrete information and data on this subject, what we do know shows that the condition can affect individuals of any age and is completely independent of the severity of the initial Covid-19 disease. Women also appear to be more commonly affected than men.
When it comes to fatigue symptoms in Long Covid patients, the focus is on rest as well as slowly and carefully reintroducing the affected person to the challenges of everyday life. For many, not taking on too much right away is an often insurmountable hurdle to overcome. “Because sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse during recovery,” says Brunhuber. And, as is the case with her friend the doctor, “even if you’re used to a fast pace in your professional and private lives, after slowing things down to a full stop, you’d be well advised to pick up the pace again very slowly, step by step and cautiously.”
The special “Fit after Covid” programme has been offered at Park Igls since late 2020. Dr Irene Brunhuber played a leading role in developing this programme along with the medical management team. It is designed to help people who have already been sick with Covid-19. How does the programme aid recovery?