NEW DELHI: In the last few months, AIIMS has come across at least 30 patients who developed symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome within weeks of getting Covid-19.
These patients are currently under treatment, said Dr Uma Kumar, professor and head of rheumatology at the institute. Whether these are isolated cases and signs of new types of post-Covid complications is yet to be confirmed, Dr Kumar added.
She, however, advised that people shouldn’t ignore sudden onset of symptoms such as pain and swelling of small joints, dry eyes and mouth, and skin rashes. “This information is not meant to make people panic. One doesn’t need to, because such cases are rare. However, it is important to be aware to be able to spot the symptoms in time and seek the right treatment,” the AIIMS professor said.
An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. Genetic predisposition and environmental factors such as long-term exposure to high pollution levels, regular smoking and high stress levels put a person at high risk to develop them.
Dr Kumar said it is possible that systemic inflammation caused by Covid-19 unmasked the illness in people who were already predisposed to it. “The current information is based on observation at our clinic. We would need more studies to assess the impact of long Covid on new onset autoimmune illness,” she said.
In a study published in the journal Cells, researchers from Mexico have noted that there was growing evidence that Covid-19 can lead to a dysregulation of the immune system with the development of autoimmune phenomena. “The consequence of this immune dysregulation ranges from the production of autoantibodies to the onset of rheumatic autoimmune disease,” the study said.
Most common long Covid symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath or trouble breathing and cognitive dysfunction.
Dr Janet Diaz from the World Health Organisation said in a video-interview recently that the treatment has to be patient-centred and focused on the symptoms the patient is presenting with. “We don’t have any drugs for the treatment of post Covid-19 conditions. But we do have interventions such as rehab interventions or self-management techniques in order to help people improve their quality of life, while they still have the symptoms that have not yet fully recovered. For example, if you have cognitive dysfunction, don’t multitask and have too many screens up at the same time,” Diaz said.

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