On a sullen day in August, Hyderabad-based entrepreneur Priya (34) sensed her heart violently pounding in her chest. “It felt like I was running a marathon while sitting on the sofa,” said Priya. She later blacked out, collapsing after a grocery run. Her heart rate hit the roof and her blood pressure fluctuated dangerously.
It has been close to eight months since her brush with Covid-19, but her symptoms linger on.
When the pandemic began, doctors had little idea of how Covid-19 affected patients over the long term. Priya’s cardiologist even ran an ECG ECG ECG An electrocardiogram records electric signal from your heart to check for different heart conditions after the incident in August; the test seemingly appeared normal. “The doctor dismissed my condition as anxiety. She did not prescribe any medication at that point,” she said.
But Priya was not convinced. She insisted on a Holter Test, which involved strapping wires to her chest for a continuous 24-hour ECG. The wires were linked to a smartphone that the doctor monitored remotely. “My heart rate spiked 163 times during the day at different points. It went as high as 183 at least thrice. The normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. The doctor who was monitoring called me to inquire if I was exercising at that point. I wasn’t,” she says.
The cardiologist, who had observed a slight swelling around her heart muscles, later put her on beta-blocker drugs beta-blocker drugs Beta-blockers Beta-blocker drugs are widely prescribed to treat a range of heart conditions. They work by temporarily 'blocking' the body's natural fight or flight response to regulate her heart rate. But she hadn’t addressed the root cause yet.
In September, Priya consulted an internist internist Internist An Internist is a physician specialising in internal medicine, treating complex combinations of conditions who advised her to take a urine test to check her adrenaline levels. The result: abnormally high adrenaline. “The lab doctor asked me if I was on any performance enhancing steroids, the sort used by athletes, before signing off on my report,” she says.
Her internist later confirmed that her symptoms were a post-Covid effect. Her immune system had been stuck in a flight or fight response for a long time, months after the virus had subsided. This caused her adrenaline levels to shoot up, spiking her heart rate and triggering panic attacks and severe insomnia.
Priya is part of a growing tribe of Covid patients living with ‘long Covid syndrome.’ The strange patterns of symptoms they exhibit—chronic fatigue, brain fog, inability to sleep for days—have left doctors baffled.