Calming Down

Doctors Find Drug That Seems to Treat Long-Hauler COVID Symptoms

Options are starting to emerge for long-term coronavirus care.

Feb 16 / Dan Robitzski
NIAID
Image by NIAID

One of the problems with battling the coronavirus pandemic is that some survivors will continue to face serious, sometimes-debilitating symptoms that persist for many months after their infection.

One of these long-hauler symptoms is a condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a nervous system disorder that causes people’s heart rates to spike out of control. But a new clinical study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on Monday suggests that treatment for the long-hauler symptom could be around the corner — pending FDA approval — in the form of an existing heart failure medication called ivabradine.

POTS is best characterized by causing extreme heart rates when the body is otherwise at rest — to the tune of 100-115 beats per minute, the University of California San Diego researchers behind the study explain in a press release. But it also causes brain fog, weakness, fatigue, blurry vision, and tremors, so if POTS could be defeated, it could also offer relief from a laundry list of other COVID long-hauler symptoms.

The clinical trial found that taking ivabradine twice a day for a month reduced patients’ resting heart rates down to a much more typical 77 beats per minute. But it’s worth noting that the study volunteers were recruited from cardiology clinics between 2018 and 2020 — so their POTS wasn’t linked to the coronavirus. Still, the team suspects that the drug will help long-haulers just the same.

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“In our contemporary practice, we are seeing patients who have previously been infected with COVID-19 present with symptoms consistent with POTS,” Dr. Jonathan Hsu, a cardiologist at UC San Diego Health, said in the release. “Given the similarities, this study leads to the question whether therapy with ivabradine may help patients who experience similar symptoms after a COVID-19 infection, and provide an important area for future study as well.”

It’s reasonable to assume that the FDA would want to see clinical research that was explicitly conducted on coronavirus long-haulers who have POTS-like symptoms before approving the drug for use. But given the seeming triumph with this first study, that kind of research may be coming soon.


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