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Good news for Covid-19 survivers: Damaged lungs can repair themselves

COVID-19 patients can suffer long-term lung and heart damage, but for many, this condition tends to improve over time. © Shutterstock

Researchers have found that lung tissue of patients who suffered severely from Covid-19 shows good recovery in three months in most cases.

Covid-19 primarily infects the lungs in the affected individuals and damages the alveoli (tiny air sacs) and surrounding tissues. This can lead to an influx of liquid which is mostly inflamed cells and protein, causing pneumonia. As the transfer of oxygen gets interrupted, infected individuals start experiencing symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, COVID-19 pneumonia can turn into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a progressive type of respiratory failure. People with ARDS may need mechanical ventilation to help them breathe.

There's been a debate going on among doctors on whether a severe Covid-19 patient's lungs can fully regain their strength after recovery from the disease. A study from Radboud University in the Netherlands has brought a positive hope for those surviving severe Covid-19. The researchers found that lung tissue of patients who suffered severely from Covid-19 shows good recovery in three months in most cases.

The study results were published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

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Damaged lungs tend heal over time

The study included 124 patients who had recovered from acute Covid-19 infections. They were divided into three categories for the study: the first group included patients who were admitted to the ICU, the second group had patients who were admitted to a nursing ward in the hospital and third group consisted of patients who could stay home but experienced persisting symptoms that eventually warranted a referral from their doctors.

After three months, the patients were examined using CT scan, a lung functional test and more. They found the lung tissue of the patients recovering well. Residual damage in the lung tissue was generally limited and was most often seen in patients who were treated in the ICU, the researcher wrote in their study paper.

They found Covid-19 recovery patterns similar to acute pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

"It is encouraging to see that lung after Covid-19 infections exhibit this level of recovery," study author Bram van den Borst was quoted as saying.

The good news is that the research team barely found any anomalies in the lungs of these patients.

The most common complaints among the patients after three months were fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pains.

Patients recover faster if they undergo rehabilitation

Earlier in September, a research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress 2020 reported that COVID-19 patients can suffer long-term lung and heart damage, but for many, this condition tends to improve over time.

For the study, the researchers performed follow-up visits in patients that had recovered from moderate-to-severe COVID-19 infection needing in-hospital treatment. CT scans conducted 6 weeks after discharge showed lung damage in about 88% of these patients. But at 12 weeks, the lung damage reduced to 56%. This improvement suggests the lungs have a mechanism for repairing themselves, the researcher noted.

Another paper presented to the Congress suggested that the sooner COVID-19 patients started a pulmonary rehabilitation programme after coming off ventilators, the better and faster their recovery.

The sooner rehabilitation started and the longer it lasted, the faster and better was the improvement in patients' walking and breathing capacities and muscle gain, said Yara Al Chikhanie, a PhD student at the Dieulefit Sant clinic for pulmonary rehabilitation and the Hp2 Lab at the Grenoble Alps University, France.

The researcher suggested that doctors should start rehabilitation as soon as possible.

With inputs from IANS

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