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The pathogenesis of COVID-19 is still under study, with still much to be discovered about its symptoms and epidemiology. Even though this illness is primarily associated with fever and respiratory distress, a lot of patients have reported experiencing digestive symptoms as well.
Thus, there is enough evidence to suggest that the novel coronavirus does not just affect your respiratory tract but can very well disrupt your gastrointestinal functioning as well.
Gastrointestinal Symptoms Associated With COVID-19
A recent study revealed an incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with COVID-19. These symptoms included anorexia, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Loss of smell, however, has not been reported much in these patients. Loss of appetite and diarrhea are still the most prevalent digestive symptoms associated with COVID-19. (1)
COVID-19 symptoms: Pattern of occurrence
Most COVID-19 patients have digestive symptoms along with respiratory symptoms. Based on the studies from China, most of the patients who had gastrointestinal symptoms also had respiratory symptoms at the same time. (1)(2)
But some patients may only experience digestive distress, while some may develop pressing gastrointestinal symptoms before the onset of respiratory illness.
The Seriousness of Gastrointestinal Symptoms of COVID-19
Yes, as many patients can present with only gastrointestinal symptoms, they should be taken as a legitimate cause for concern.
If you happen to experience any kind of unexplained digestive distress that fails to subside despite proper care, you should have a high suspicion for COVID-19 and get yourself tested for the same.
In fact, gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 often mean that you have contracted a severe form of infection that could even prove fatal.
Some studies have shown that patients with COVID-19 who have gastrointestinal symptoms, along with respiratory symptoms, have almost twice the risk of mortality than patients who do not have any digestive problems. (3)(4)
Treating Gastrointestinal Symptoms of COVID-19
If you develop persistent digestive symptoms despite any identifiable cause, chances are you may be carrying the virus. In such a case, you are advised not to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and practice stringent hand hygiene to avoid transmitting the infection to others.
The gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 are addressed in the traditional manner and do not warrant any specialized treatment. Most of the patients had diarrhea and were advised to take the standard antidiarrheal medication to cope with the problem.
Similarly, patients suffering from nausea and vomiting were given antinausea medications. For abdominal pain, patients should avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and can take Tylenol instead.
Confusing Gastrointestinal Symptoms of COVID-19 With Other Digestive Disorders
The most common gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 are diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, which are similar to the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease.
Presence of COVID-19 Virus in the Stool of an Infected Person
Yes, COVID-19 RNA can be found in the stool of the infected individuals, particularly those with gastrointestinal symptoms.
In fact, most of the patients who had the virus in their stool were majorly showing digestive symptoms rather than respiratory distress. Moreover, the patients who only exhibited respiratory symptoms were far less likely to have the virus in their fecal excreta.
Risk of Liver Damage in COVID-19
Abnormal liver enzymes have been reported in patients with COVID-19, although no serious liver damage has been reported.
Risk of COVID-19 in People With Liver Damage
Patients who have pre-existing liver disease and an immunocompromised status, such as those with liver cirrhosis or on immunosuppressive medications for autoimmune liver disease, are more prone to contracting COVID-19.
High-Risk of COVID-19 in Older Populations
Middle-aged and elderly patients usually have many preexisting chronic medical problems, such as diabetes, hypertension, and COPD, in addition to a relatively weak immune system, all of which are risk factors for COVID-19.
Thus, older people are not only more likely to contract the infection but also more vulnerable to its complications, which can be fatal.
Preserving One’s Emotional and Mental Health During the Lockdown
It has been a tough time for the whole global population that has been put under lockdown and confined to their homes. There have been more reports of anxiety, depression, alcohol, and drug use.
People are encouraged to stay active, exercise regularly, and communicate with their social support systems such as family and friends via telephone or video chat to maintain their emotional well-being.