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University Hospitals' Connor Whole Health turns to acupuncture to successfully treat long COVID symptoms

Data shows that more than 1 in 3 people end up with long COVID, as a multitude of symptoms like fatigue and brain fog stick around three to six months after illness.

CLEVELAND — When Char Harner got COVID-19 last December, she lost her taste and smell, and fought flu-like symptoms at home. But she managed.

“I kept working the whole time,” said Harner, “I had to take a nap here and there when I had a 20-minute break. But yeah, it wasn't that bad.”

“I was short of breath, tired, but I thought it had a lot to do with winter,” she adds. That was until March, when now fully vaccinated, she went back to the gym and a favorite Zumba class.

“I felt like I was having a heart attack. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, overwhelmed by it,” said Harner. “I was not me, at all.”

Her first stop was her primary care physician. After a round of steroids, and a battery of tests on her heart and lungs, she found University Hospitals' COVID Recovery Clinic in June.

“Everything was coming back just great. I was super healthy, and not feeling healthy at all,” she said.

As concern grows over new cases, medical experts are on the lookout for COVID symptoms that stick around. Recent data shows that more than 1 in 3 people end up with long COVID - as a multitude of symptoms like fatigue and brain fog stick around three to six months after illness.

That's when doctors sent her to UH Connor Whole Health, her first introduction to acupuncture. “I hadn't tried anything like acupuncture before,” she said. “I was skeptical.”

“A lot of my COVID long haul patients are coming in, saying they feel shortness of breath, but also fatigue, body aches, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, these are things that we often treat with acupuncture. And luckily, as we've been applying acupuncture to the long haul cases we've been seeing a good response from patients,” said Christine Kaiser, a licensed acupuncturist, and the clinical manager for acupuncture and quality UH Connor Whole Health.

Kaiser is part of a nationwide group of healthcare providers meeting regularly to share best practices for managing long COVID. While it's early, they're finding the ancient healing form is a new cure.

“I am very excited to see more research done on acupuncture and COVID, long haul. And see how we can help and support these patients, and build an evidence base for that,” said Kaiser.

“I know people are usually worried about getting needles, but most patients enjoy it and find it very comfortable,” she said.

Harner was so comfortable the first time, she fell asleep. Now COVID recovered, she's continued weekly sessions.

“By the third session, I woke up [thinking] I feel like myself again.”

Kaiser says these therapies treat the whole person, and can be targeted to unique combinations of symptoms, like those many long haulers are facing.

The National Institutes of Health is spending more than $1.15 billion currently to study long COVID as an emerging chronic disease.

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