This Drug Might Stop Your Body From Overreacting to COVID-19: Study

This Drug Might Stop Your Body From Overreacting to COVID-19: Study

Alpha blockers could potentially stop the immune system from snowballing into a deadly mess.

So many people do survive the scourge of the coronavirus if they catch it. These people are often younger patients who do not have any underlying conditions known to exacerbate the severity of a COVID-19. They are clear of things like asthma and chronic diseases such as diabetes. 

For some patients their immune system really goes crazy though, for lack of a better description. The scientific or medical term for this is a “cytokine storm”. This “bad weather” can take place in your body if your immune system overreacts to a COVID-19 infection. (FYI, people with other conditions like cancer and autoimmune diseases can also experience this). 

A new study has looked at this phenomenon. It was found that a certain medication could prevent your immune system from losing track of itself in the face of COVID-19. How does it work, and why do we know it might? Here is a look at the issue in more detail. 

Related: Rapid COVID-19 At-Home Testing: How It Works

Cytokine Storm

A cytokine storm is a bit like a snowball rampaging downhill. It happens when macrophages (part of your immune system) detect virus particles in your body. When this happens, the macrophages release proteins called cytokines. Under normal circumstances, the cytokines act as helpful recruiters that bring more immune cells to the scene of the crime. This can help fight off your viral enemy more rapidly.  

If the infection you have is deemed by your body to be super serious however, your macrophages will not only release cytokines. The show does not stop there. Your macrophages will also produce something called catecholamines. The term sounds like “catacombs” and maybe there’s a good reason for this. You are not dead yet when the catecholamines are released, but this event does spell bad news. When catecholamines are released, they trigger more cytokines to come out. When this happens, your immune system is sort of on a runaway train, snowballing to the finish. 

Does it sound absolutely terrible? Yes. It can be. 

This process of rapid inflammation in the face of an invading virus is what can land coronavirus patients in the ICU. If your immune system will not calm down, it can make it difficult to breathe. This is what can lead to organ failure, and death. The potentially good news is that something called alpha blockers might stop this. Here is why and how. 

Related: The Coronavirus Might Be With Us Forever

The Role of Alpha Blockers

In a study done before the coronavirus slapped our world in the face, a Howard Hughes medical investigator by the name of Bert Vogelstein and his team from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine were studying cytokine storms in cancer patients. They had some positive findings. This group of researchers discovered that when mice with a bacterial infection were given alpha blockers, fewer of them experienced cytokine storms. In turn, fewer died from their infection. It was then concluded tentatively that alpha blockers can lower the risk of death from respiratory distress. 

Is this true? Let’s see. Vogelstein’s team now hopes to test the effects of alpha blockers in coronavirus patients, because the time is nigh and he just might save many, many lives. Here is what the team plans to do. 

There is going to be a drug trial. Patients between the ages of 45 and 85 who have the coronavirus and are at high risk but are not yet on a ventilator or in an ICU will be asked if they wish to participate. Those who do will be given gradually increasing doses of an alpha blocker called prazosin, (brand name Minipress). This will take place over six days.  

Related: Is It Possible to Catch COVID-19 Again?

Following this, the researchers will analyze whether patients who received the alpha blockers fared better than those who did not. Did they avoid the ICU at higher rates? Did more of them survive? If the answer turns out to be “yes”, then we could have a new tool in our box to win against COVID-19. 

Of course, it is not a cure. 

 “Eventually, hopefully, a vaccine will be produced, and that will be the essence of prevention,” said Vogelstein.. “But until vaccines are available, secondary prevention makes a lot of sense.”

Researchers say they will be following patients in this trial for 60 days. The preliminary data from the first patients could be available in just weeks, however, meaning the medical community could be seeing signs of the success (or failure) of this treatment as early as this summer. Something to look forward to. 

Photo credits: Chaikm/

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