by Dr Qian


by Dr Qian


TCM for Treating Long Covid

Understanding Long Covid: The Need for Clear Definitions

TCM for treating Long Covid and why it is successful needs to be looked at in the light of problems we face in Western medicine. We all want to help those suffering from long-term COVID-19, but there’s a crucial hurdle: our current definition is too broad.

Imagine you’re studying a disease. The first step? Defining a case clearly. Unfortunately, the current definition for long covid falls short. Let’s explore why.

A Flawed Definition

The National Academies of Sciences (NASEM) recently defined long covid as a chronic condition following COVID-19 infection, lasting at least 3 months and affecting any organ system. Sounds good, right? Not quite.

“Long COVID is an infection-associated chronic condition that occurs after SARS-CoV-2 infection and is present for at least 3 months as a continuous, relapsing and remitting, or progressive disease state that affects one or more organ systems.”

This definition allows for any symptom, new or old, lasting more than 3 months after a possible COVID infection (which most of us have had by now) to be classified as long covid. This makes it difficult to:

  • Pinpoint the cause: We can’t tell if the symptoms are lingering effects of a bad infection or a separate condition.
  • Develop treatments: A clear definition is needed to target the right treatments for the right people.

Here’s a real-world example: A recent study suggested 20% of people have long covid. This high number might be due to the broad definition.

The Study: Patterns, Not Answers

This study, published in JAMA Network Open, surveyed people in long-term health studies. They asked participants if they thought they had COVID-19 and if they felt fully recovered. Those who said no and took more than 90 days to recover were classified as having long covid.

The study found interesting trends:

  • Recovery time: It took longer for people with pre-existing conditions and those with severe COVID-19 to recover.
  • Vaccination: Vaccination was linked to shorter recovery times.

These are good starting points, but they don’t answer the key question: What exactly is long COVID-19?

Misclassification Bias: A Problem for Research

This study, and many others, suffer from misclassification bias. This means people might be labelled as having long covid when they don’t, or vice versa. This makes research less accurate.

For example, the study relied on self-reported symptoms. This can be misleading because people’s perception of their health isn’t always perfect.

Furthermore, other respiratory illnesses can also cause lingering symptoms. We need to differentiate between long covid and “long flu” for better understanding.

Towards a Clearer Future

The lack of a clear definition hinders progress in understanding and treating long covid.

Here’s the bottom line: If everyone seemingly has long covid, then the term loses its meaning.

We need a more specific definition to:

  • Identify true long covid cases
  • Develop targeted treatments

By refining the definition, we can move closer to effectively helping those suffering from this complex condition.

TCM for Treating Long Covid

Whilst here in the West we still have these problems when treating someone with suspected Long Covid, TCM for Treating Long Covid in China with great success (millions treated).

Exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine for Long COVID Symptoms

For many COVID-19 survivors, residual symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and insomnia continue to impact daily life. Studies suggest that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may offer relief for these lingering issues. For instance, a meta-analysis of 11 studies found that combining Chinese medicine with conventional treatments was more effective than conventional treatment alone in addressing chronic fatigue syndrome. Clinical studies specifically targeting COVID-19 recovery have shown promising results as well.

TCM’s Role in Symptom Management

A multi-centre observational study in Hong Kong demonstrated that TCM for Treating Long Covid could significantly alleviate symptoms such as fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, post-meal fullness, and loose stool in patients recovering from COVID-19. These treatments also improved lung function and promoted overall healthier body constitutions.

Acupoint Stimulation Therapy

In classical TCM, acupoint stimulation—whether through manual acupuncture, electroacupuncture, or moxibustion—has been shown to regulate the body effectively. This therapy has long been used to prevent and control infectious diseases and is currently applied to treat issues in the circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems. Long COVID patients may benefit from these therapies as well.

Understanding Gu Syndrome in Traditional Chinese Medicine

What is Gu Syndrome?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long recognized and treated protracted illnesses following infections by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites under the term “gu syndrome.” The word “gu” translates to “possession,” with the Chinese character depicting three worms inside a vessel, symbolizing lingering pathogens causing lasting symptoms.

Diagnosing Gu Syndrome

Patients often report never feeling quite right after recovering from a specific illness, which aligns with Gu syndrome. This ancient diagnosis is particularly relevant today as many have been affected by COVID-19, making the treatment of Gu syndrome more critical than ever.

Types of Gu Syndrome

There are two main types:

  1. Brain Gu: Affects the nervous system, causing headaches, pain, anxiety, and depression.
  2. Gut Gu: Affects the digestive system with symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, stomach pain, and heartburn.

Both types can cause fatigue and brain fog, and often occur together.

Treating Long COVID with TCM

TCM practitioners use personalized treatments for long COVID, starting with a thorough diagnosis through patient interaction and observation. Common TCM treatments include:

  • Acupuncture: Helps relieve pain and calm the nervous system.
  • Herbal Formulas: Strengthen the body and combat lingering viruses. Herbs are used in combinations to address various symptoms.

Adapting Treatments

As viruses adapt, TCM for Treating Long Covid also need periodic adjustments. Practitioners might change some herbs in the formula to maintain effectiveness, leveraging plants’ defensive mechanisms to combat pathogens.

By understanding and utilizing TCM practices, we can better address long COVID and similar lingering illnesses, providing relief and improving patient outcomes.


Combining TCM with conventional medical approaches offers a comprehensive strategy for managing long COVID symptoms. Through individualized treatments and therapies like acupuncture, TCM can play a vital role in improving the quality of life for COVID-19 survivors.

TCM for treating Long Covid

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