Before contracting COVID, Susannah Thompson lived an active life.
She worked 10-hour shifts as a GP, loved ballet and swam as much as she could.
But since 2020, she has worked with a long time COVID and her life is turned upside down.
“I wanted to be the mom crawling through soft play, going down the slides.
“Now I’m the mom who’s at home in bed while they’re somewhere else without me, and it’s very, very, hard.”
There are around two million people currently living with long-term COVID symptoms in the UK, but there are still many unknowns.
For example, there is no standardized test, or even a globally recognized definition.
Susannah is still coming to terms with the symptoms of prolonged COVID.
She says at first it felt like she was getting physically better, but realized that the relief she felt would only be temporary.
“You get this cycle where one day you’re okay and you think, ‘oh, I’m okay today’, so you try to do a little bit more.
“You stay up longer, read a story with your children.
“But the next day you can’t move. [Even] the quilt is too heavy.”
Researchers at Leeds University believe their new study may help.
It found “impressive results” with its lengthy COVID program, which was based on a “gradual or pace increase” in a patient’s physical activity.
The study followed 31 people with long-term COVID symptoms for six weeks.
At the start of the study, it says patients reported an average of three “crashes” a week, leaving them “physically, emotionally or cognitively exhausted”.
But by the end of the study, this was reduced to an average of one crash a week.”
Dr Manoj Sivan, associate professor at the School of Medicine, led the research project.
“When patients have a crash, they experience a feeling of complete exhaustion and are wiped out and unable to resume activities for hours or sometimes days,” he said.
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“The findings of this research are exciting because this is the first time crash episodes have been used as a marker of the condition, and a structured pacing program has now been shown to significantly reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.”
But the study is keen to emphasize that the focus should be on “physical activity” rather than exercise and should be paced as well as monitored for safety and effectiveness.
“This study is not about pushing people through and forcing them to do activity, this is a gradual return to activity following a pacing protocol,” explains Dr Sivan
Susannah says the study is a positive step in the right direction, but adds that much more work needs to be done.
“I’ve come to a point where I don’t know what the future holds. The doctors I trust the most and respect the most are the ones who openly say ‘we don’t know’… but we can hope.”
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