Covid-19 may affect long-term ‘fight or flight’ response in young adults


The sympathetic nervous system governs the “fight-or-flight” response. A study suggests that young adults who recently recovered from Covid-19 have increased activity in this branch of their nervous system while at rest.

Compared with controls, they had higher sympathetic nerve activity and a faster heart rate in a test designed to simulate standing up.

If similar disturbances occur in older adults after Covid-19, there may be serious adverse effects on their cardiovascular health.

Around a thirdTrusted Source of otherwise healthy people who have recovered from mild Covid-19 experience the lingering symptoms of long Covid.

The most common symptoms include fatigue and shortness of breath, but some individuals also report heart palpitations.

This may be a sign that their “autonomic nervous system” is out of balance.
The two wings of the autonomic nervous system act together automatically to regulate vital functions such as heart rate and breathing.

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When the body perceives a life threatening situation, the sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate and breathing rate, a reaction that people call the “fight-or-flight response.”

By contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to a more stable, restful state, known as “rest and digest.”

Individuals with hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and obesity often have increased activity in their sympathetic nervous system, which Covid-19 may exacerbate.

For the first time, researchers have now assessed sympathetic nerve activity in otherwise healthy young people recovering from the infection.

They ran a series of tests on 16 individuals aged approximately 20 years old who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, around 35 days previously.

Before the pandemic, the scientists carried out identical tests on an age-matched group of 14 healthy volunteers, who served as controls.

The tests revealed changes in the sympathetic nervous system of people recovering Covid-19, both at rest and in response to a stress test.

There were also differences in heart rate and sympathetic nerve activity in a test designed to simulate standing up.

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