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Front Physiol


Hyperventilation: A Possible Explanation for Long-Lasting Exercise Intolerance in Mild COVID-19 Survivors?


Motiejunaite J, Balagny P, Arnoult F, Mangin L, Bancal C, d'Ortho M-P, Frija-Masson J
Front Physiol. 2020; 11:614590.
PMID: 33536937.


Since the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, most attention has focused on containing transmission and addressing the surge of critically ill patients in acute care settings. As we enter the second phase of the pandemic, emphasis must evolve to post-acute care of COVID-19 survivors. Persisting cardiorespiratory symptoms have been reported at several months after the onset of the infection. Information is lacking on the pathophysiology of exercise intolerance after COVID-19. Previous outbreaks of coronaviruses have been associated with persistent dyspnea, muscle weakness, fatigue and reduced quality of life. The extent of Covid-19 sequelae remains to be evaluated, but persisting cardiorespiratory symptoms in COVID-19 survivors can be described as two distinct entities. The first type of post-Covid symptoms are directly related to organ injury in the acute phase, or the complications of treatment. The second type of persisting symptoms can affect patients even with mild initial disease presentation without evidence of organ damage. The mechanisms are still poorly qualified to date. There is a lack of correlation between initial symptom severity and residual symptoms at exertion. We report exercise hyperventilation as a major limiting factor in COVID-19 survivors. The origin of this hyperventilation may be related to an abnormality of ventilatory control, by either hyperactivity of activator systems (automatic and cortical ventilatory control, peripheral afferents, and sensory cortex) or failure of inhibitory systems (endorphins) in the aftermath of pulmonary infection. Hyperventilation-induced hypocapnia can cause a multitude of extremely disabling symptoms such as dyspnea, tachycardia, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness and syncope at exertion.