Study finds digestive issues are a common Covid-19 symptom and can point to worse prognosis

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As the Covid-19 situation continues to change and evolve on an almost hourly basis, medical professionals all over the world are constantly making discoveries about this new virus and its nature. Now, a new study has some pretty important news about how the virus manifests itself in one’s body. It doesn’t just attack the respiratory system.

Digestive and stomach problems are very common in Covid-19 patients, according to research just published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. In fact, among a group of 204 coronavirus patients analyzed in the Hubei province of China, nearly half (99 patients, 48.5%) of the group cited stomach issues like diarrhea and loss of appetite as their main symptom, above even breathing problems.

The patients were admitted to three Chinese hospitals between January 18th and February 28th. For many of those people, they experienced digestive problems long before any breathing issues appeared. A small percentage (seven patients) never developed any respiratory problems at all, with the entirety of their symptoms being digestive.

Covid-19 is widely considered a respiratory disease, but this new research suggests that everyone needs to start associating stomach issues with it as well.

While patients who showed respiratory problems were hospitalized within an average of seven-point three days, it took nine days for patients only complaining of digestive issues. Considering the popular beliefs on Covid-19 thus far, those numbers make sense. These individuals probably didn’t realize they had Covid-19 just because of an upset stomach or lack of appetite, and similarly, doctors and hospitals have been focusing the majority of their attention on monitoring for respiratory symptoms.

“Clinicians must bear in mind that digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, may be a presenting feature of COVID-19 that arise before respiratory symptoms, and on rare occasions are the only presenting symptom of COVID-19,” the study reads.

Let’s break down the reported digestive problems among studied patients a bit further. The most frequent complaint was a loss of appetite or inability to eat (83.8%), followed by diarrhea (29.3%). Meanwhile smaller percentages also reported vomiting (0.8%) and abdominal pain (0.4%).

“Clinicians should raise their index of suspicion when at-risk patients, such as those exposed to COVID-19, present with fever and digestive symptoms, even in the absence of respiratory symptoms. This knowledge may help with earlier identification of COVID-19, faster time to treatment, earlier quarantine, and lower exposure to bystanders,” the study’s authors suggest.

As the severity of the Covid-19 infection increased among patients, those with major digestive symptoms reported their issues worsening. So, it doesn’t appear that stomach problems are only a precursor to respiratory symptoms or an early symptom that disappears.

Moreover, patients who didn’t have any digestive symptoms were actually more likely to make a full recovery and be discharged from medical care than those with digestive problems. In all, 60% of mainly respiratory patients were cured, in comparison to only 34.3% of digestive patients.

In summation, the study’s authors conclude that Covid-19 patients experiencing digestive symptoms have an overall worse prognosis than those only dealing with respiratory problems. That’s an incredibly significant finding, and something we all need to keep in mind moving forward. We’re all a bit more aware of every sneeze and cough right now, but our stomachs may be the first to sound the coronavirus alarm.

On a humorous note, these findings may explain why everyone has been going wild over toilet paper lately. Although, there’s really no need. Covid-19 represents several challenges to society, but a toilet paper shortage isn’t one of them.

The full study can be found here, published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.