What is Cytokine Storm?
Cytokine storm is one of the complications that can be experienced by people with COVID-19. This condition needs to be watched out for and needs to be treated intensively. If left untreated, cytokine storms can cause organ failure and even death.
Cytokines are proteins that play a role in the immune system. Under normal conditions, cytokines help the immune system to coordinate properly against bacteria or viruses that cause infection.
However, if produced in excess, cytokines can actually cause damage in the body. This is known as a cytokine storm.
Cited from Very Well Health, cytokine storm is not a disease, but rather a serious medical problem that can occur due to certain causes. This condition is also sometimes called cytokine release syndrome, CRS, or simply cytokine storm.
Cytokine Storm Causes
A cytokine storm occurs when the body releases too many cytokines into the blood too quickly. This condition causes immune cells to attack healthy body tissues and cells, causing inflammation. This condition is known by examining D-dimer and CRP in patients with COVID-19.
This medical problem can also make the organs in the body become damaged or fail to work. This is what makes cytokine storms need to be watched out for, because they can cause death.
In people with COVID-19, a cytokine storm attacks lung tissue and blood vessels. Alveoli or small air sacs in the lungs will be filled with fluid, making it impossible for oxygen exchange to occur. That is why people with COVID-19 often experience shortness of breath.
Symptoms of a Cytokine Storm in Patients with COVID-19
Most COVID-19 sufferers who experience cytokine storms experience fever and shortness of breath and require a breathing stone or ventilator. This condition usually occurs about 6-7 days after the symptoms of COVID-19 appear.
In addition to fever and shortness of breath, cytokine storms also cause a variety of symptoms, such as:
- Swelling in the legs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle and joint pain
- Skin rash
- Quick breath
- Difficult to control movement
- Confusion and hallucinations
- Very low blood pressure
- Blood clotting
- Lethargy and poor response
Cytokine Storm Treatment
COVID-19 sufferers experiencing cytokine storms require treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU). Some of the treatment steps that the doctor will take include:
- Intensive monitoring of vital signs, including blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and body temperature
- Installation of the ventilator machine
- Administration of fluids by infusion
- Monitoring electrolyte levels
- Administration of the drug anakinra or tocilizumab (actemra) to inhibit cytokine activity
However, further research is still needed to determine the appropriate treatment for COVID-19 sufferers who experience cytokine storms.
In people with COVID-19, cytokine storms can cause life-threatening organ damage. In order to avoid this serious condition, you are advised to always comply with health protocols anytime and anywhere.
- Fajgenbaum, D. & June, C. (2020). Cytokine Storm. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(23), pp. 2255–2273.
- National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. Cytokine Storm.
- Bonenberger, A. Yale School of Medicine (2020). Looking Out for Cytokine Storms.
- Bradley, S. Health (2020). What Is a Cytokine Storm? Doctors Explain How Some COVID-19 Patients’ Immune Systems Turn Deadly.
- Goodman, B. WebMD (2020). Cytokine Storms May Be Fueling Some COVID Deaths.