ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – A Missouri doctor and his team may have discovered a potential cause of long-haul COVID-19, and the discovery could help those suffering from the chronic condition.
Dr. Leonard Weinstock, a gastroenterologist at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, and others found that mast cell activation symptoms were increased in long COVID-19 patients. Their work was published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Mast cells are allergic cells that release histamine, prostaglandin, heparin and many other chemicals during infections, inflammation and allergic triggers.
That’s a problem for those who contract COVID-19, researchers said. When mast cells are activated, they can cause long-lasting changes to the inflammatory and allergic state of the body.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long COVID-19 patients commonly experience post-COVID-19 conditions that include new, returning or ongoing health problems four or more weeks after being infected with the virus.
“Even people who did not have COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions,” the CDC stated. “These conditions can present as different types and combinations of health problems for different lengths of time.”
Weinstock and his team hypothesized that mast cell activation could cause long COVID-19 symptoms. They also believe that long COVID-19 symptoms could be mitigated by preventing mast cell activation.
It’s estimated that 10% of the U.S. population has Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, according to Weinstock, who is renowned for treating the condition.
“This brings up the possibility that what we use to treat Mast Cell Activation Syndrome patients may also help long COVID patients,” Weinstock said.
Allergy and indigestion medications are often used to treat MCAS.
The researchers recruited long COVID-19 patients from a Facebook support group for their study and assessed their symptoms before and after they contracted the virus.
“We found the long COVID patients were very similar in nature to the control group prior to being infected with COVID, but after the infection and when they developed long COVID, they had symptoms almost identical and similar in severity to those of mast cell activation patients,” Weinstock said.
The discovery is a first step into what may lead to more effective ways to treat long COVID patients, researchers have said.