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Long Covid and Why Vagus Nerve Stimulation May Offer Some Hope

Updated on December 8, 2022
Long COvid

Patients rarely recover from Covid infections. Long Covid is the resulting illness.

The vagus nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves connecting the brain to various body parts. This implies that it affects multiple body processes, including the heartbeat, food movement from the mouth to the stomach, speech, gag reflex, food movement through the intestines, and sweating.

The long-term effects of SARS on the vagus nerve may be due to the virus's impact on that particular nerve, and EECP therapy—which increases blood flow to organs—may help improve some of those symptoms.

Vagus nerve stimulation is a relatively new treatment that can help with long- and short-term symptoms of chronic migraines. It may also work for other conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and other pain disorders. This therapy has many unanswered questions, but it's an exciting step in migraine management.

What is Long Covid?

Most persons with the coronavirus (COVID-19) start feeling better a few days or weeks after showing symptoms and recover completely in 12 weeks. Some people's symptoms may last for longer.

This is referred to as long COVID or post-COVID-19 syndrome. Long COVID is a newer illness that is presently being researched.

There is no test to identify post-COVID issues, and individuals may have various symptoms caused by other medical conditions. This can make it challenging for medical professionals to identify post-COVID disorders. Your doctor will review your medical history, including if you have ever been diagnosed with COVID-19 due to a positive test result, symptoms, or exposure, and do a physical exam.

What Is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?

VNS is a treatment that uses an implanted device in the chest wall to stimulate your vagus nerve. That nerve runs from your brain to your heart and lungs but extends through your abdomen, which plays an important role in digestion, gut motility, and immune system function. The device sends small electrical signals through this nerve to help regulate these systems—and, hopefully, prevent the spread of long covid.

Why It Might Work For Long Covid

For starters, research suggests that vagus nerve stimulation may reduce inflammation in the body—which could be vital for fighting off long covid. It could also help with mood disorders like depression (common among those infected), as well as helping people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia cope better with their symptoms.

Long Covid, Vagus Nerve Symptoms May Overlap

Afferent sensory fibers transport information from the periphery to the brain, accounting for approximately 80% of the nervous system. The vagus nerve predominantly projects to the center of the solitary tract in the central nervous system. Efferent routes from the NTS to the parabrachial nucleus, amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, cerebellum, and spinal cord are extensive.

There's a lot of evidence to suggest that vagal nerve stimulation can help treat people with CVID-19, and it should be combined with the best current medical strategies.

According to a study from March to June 2021, the researchers studied the morphologic and functional characteristics of the vagus nerve in 348 individuals diagnosed with protracted COVID at a Spanish hospital. 228 (66%) of the 348 exhibited at least one symptom that may be related to vagus nerve dysfunction (VND).

According to one study, vagus nerve stimulation in rats reduces the inflammatory response in the central nervous system generated by peripheral lipopolysaccharide exposure. Another recent study found that vagus nerve stimulation reduces organ failures in a pig sepsis model.

These findings suggest that VNS may be a useful adjunct therapy for COVID-19 patients that targets inflammatory pathways. VNS may lessen the inflammatory processes that lead to sepsis-related mortality, microcirculation, multiorgan failure, and endothelial activation. VNS may have advantageous cardiovascular effects during sepsis, including antiarythmogen, reduced myocardial oxygen consumption, and improved diastole.

A good safety record exists for vagus nerve stimulation. Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (t-VNS) devices without an incision have recently been created and put on the market. With proven safety and very mild to moderate adverse effects that are anticipated to improve over time, implanted VNS devices have been used for years to treat severe recurrent, refractory depression and refractory partial-onset seizures.

According to a study, two COVID-19 patients treated with t-VNS saw a marked decrease. Patients with COVID-19 may benefit from adjunct therapy using non-invasive VNS to treat organ dysfunction.

According to different research findings, non-invasive stimulation of the vagus nerve's auricular branch during tVNS therapy may be a useful therapeutic approach for treating protracted COVID. In the lack of a control group for comparison, it is plausible that the beneficial outcome was merely a placebo reaction to the therapy. Nevertheless, the experiment succeeded because at least a third of the patients improved (57% improvement rate).

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Can Help The Body Shift Out Of A State Of Chronic Inflammation.

Vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, is a non-invasive procedure that sends electrical impulses to the brain via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is part of our parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest” nerves. It helps regulate inflammation throughout the body.

In some patients with Long Covid (an autoimmune disease), increasing activity in this part of your nervous system could help shift your body into an anti-inflammatory state by:

  • Limiting immune cells' ability to infiltrate inflamed tissue
  • Reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers) produced by T helper 1 (Th1) cells
  • Boosting production of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin 10 (IL10), which can inhibit a cell's response to harmful stimuli

Electrical Stimulation To The Vagus Nerve May Be Effective In Reducing Inflammation.

Electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve may reduce inflammation in some patients. This non-invasive procedure does not require surgery and can be done at home.

These treatments are not cures; they are only meant to help manage symptoms of Long Covid until a cure can be found.


Long-lasting inflammatory reactions and protracted immunological responses following infection may cause chronic COVID symptoms. It's interesting to note that vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may have anti-inflammatory benefits, but until recently, there was no non-invasive, at-home method for self-administration of VNS.

In conclusion, vagus nerve stimulation may be an effective treatment option for patients suffering from Long Covid. Research on this topic is still in its infancy, but there are many reasons to get excited about the potential of this treatment. Vagus nerve stimulation effectively treats other conditions and diseases, such as depression and epilepsy. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation when applied directly to specific areas of the body; therefore, it makes sense that it would work even better when applied through electrodes attached directly to one's neck near the vagus nerve itself!


Meneses G, Bautista M, Florentino A, Diaz G, Acero G, Besedovsky H, et al. Electric stimulation of the vagus nerve reduced mouse neuroinflammation induced by lipopolysaccharide. J Inflamm (Lond). (2016) 13:33. DOI: 10.1186/s12950-016-0140-5

Kohoutova M, Horak J, Jarkovska D, Martinkova V, Tegl V, Nalos L, et al. Vagus nerve stimulation attenuates multiple organ dysfunction in resuscitated porcine progressive sepsis. Crit Care Med. (2019) 47:e461–9. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000003714

Boezaart AP, Botha DA. Treatment of stage 3 COVID-19 with transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation drastically reduces interleukin-6 blood levels: a report on two cases. Neuromodulation. (2020) 24:166–7. DOI: 10.1111/ner.13293

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