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Mercer Island doctor: COVID-19 causing ‘other complex problems’ for patients who recover

A nurse at a drive up COVID-19 coronavirus testing station set up by UW Medicine. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

There are a substantial number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 pretty well, but more and more we’re hearing about complications that can happen after you recover from the virus.

“Thirty-three percent of all patients who are on ventilators get this ICU acquired muscle weakness,” said Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen. “… The COVID infection, when you have cytokine storm and you’re that sick is really very similar to what happens to your body with sepsis. In fact, it’s sort of a more serious form of sepsis if you will, and 50% of patients admitted with sepsis will have this ICU acquired weakness.”

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“What’s happening is we’re seeing younger, healthier people who are getting so sick that they’re getting up in the intensive care unit,” he added. “They recover, but then they go home and deal with these other complex problems. … It is caused in part by treatment, but it’s also caused in some ways when you’re in intensive care unit, you’re basically laying still. If you’re on a ventilator, … you’re medically paralyzed with drugs, you’re not using your muscles, so it’s actually sort of a form of muscle wasting.”

In addition to the effects of being treated in the ICU, part of the issue is that we’re still learning about coronavirus and all the different areas of the body that it can impact.

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“We’re learning about this illness, and we’re realizing that there’s something about this virus, that it’s a respiratory virus, but yet it’s able to attack our brain. It’s able to attack our heart, it’s able to attack our lungs, able to attack organs in our abdomen and the rest of our body,” Cohen said. “It’s unlike any respiratory ailments we’ve ever seen before.”

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