Vanderbilt’s findings 5 months after opening clinic for COVID-19 long haulers

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — As Delta numbers continue to surge, some patients are still working to recover from the first round of COVID-19 weeks and months after having the virus.   

Vanderbilt University Medical Center opened its doors to a clinic specifically dedicated to these patients roughly five months ago. So far, Vanderbilt reports brain fog, fatigue, and cognitive impairment as some of the biggest long-hauler symptoms.   

“They can’t remember tasks; they often have trouble with completing a task and trouble concentrating. They also can have trouble with word-finding, so many of them have difficulty with speech,” Dr. Sapna Kripalani, Assistant Professor of Medicine at VUMC. 

As COVID-19 makes a strong comeback, doctors and researchers are still learning about its lingering effects. 

“Feeling like very small tasks, like climbing a flight of stairs or walking from one room in their house to another makes them feel like they need to take a break,” Dr. Kripalani said.  

In March, Vanderbilt opened its Adult Post-acute COVID Clinic for long-haulers. The clinic collects its own data on patients’ long-term effects and uses COVID-19 research from other countries to come up with treatment plans, when possible. However, Dr. Kripalani admits treating these symptoms is still very much a learning game.   

“A lot of it is just supportive care, I think providing a space for people to describe what they’re experiencing and feel like they’re heard I think is one of the biggest values of a clinic that focuses on post-COVID recovery.” 

 The clinic has seen promise with certain rehabilitation and physical therapy. Doctors say they’ve seen major improvements in patients with life-altering long-COVID and are optimistic for recovery options in the future.  

“We’ve seen incredible improvements in people, even just a few weeks into the program, being able to walk a half a mile or a mile when they previously couldn’t do so,” Dr. Kripalani said. 

The VUMC Adult Post-acute COVID Clinic offers customized treatment and doctors visits, based on each patient’s needs. To qualify for the clinic, patients must have had a confirmed positive COVID-19 test from four to six weeks prior to being seen by the clinic. The clinic accepts patients experiencing COVID-19 side effects six to eight weeks after their diagnosis.  

Clinic appointments are a mix of virtual and in-person visits. Patients can call the clinic directly at (888) 312-0847 or get a referral from their doctor.  

It’s unclear what long-term effects from the Delta variant might look like, Dr. Kripalani’s best advice to the public is to do everything possible to avoid contracting the virus in the first place. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine, she says, is the best way to do that.  

“So I think that is what’s going to halt the actual COVID infections and that’s what’s going to prevent long-COVID,” she said. 

She added that so far, anecdotal research shows that the vaccine may reduce long-COVID side effects, however, those findings are not yet scientifically proven.  

Dr. Kripalani pointed out that there is not a correlation between the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and long haulers. Some patients had mild cases of COVID-19 but still ended up with long-haul symptoms.  

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