May 20, 2024

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COVID-19: ‘Digestive symptoms are common’

New research into data from more than 200 people who received medical care for COVID-19 reveals that almost half of this group experienced digestive symptoms, such as loss of appetite and diarrhea.

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Recent findings suggest that a significant number of people with COVID-19 may experience digestive symptoms.

As the world races to find the best ways to cope with the new coronavirus, researchers continue to contribute to our understanding of COVID-19, the disease that the virus causes.

The exact symptoms are a main point of interest. As with many other viral infections, SARS-CoV-2 infections cause different symptoms in different people.

But which symptoms are the most common, and which others are still likely to affect a significant number of people?

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.

According to information from the World Health Organization (WHO), three of the most common symptoms are a fever, coughing, and some difficulty breathing.

However, people with COVID-19 have reported many other symptoms, including digestive ones.

While the WHO still consider digestive symptoms to be uncommon, a new study from the Wuhan Medical Treatment Expert Group for COVID-19 suggests that such symptoms may be more widespread than specialists had thought.

The expert group behind this new study — the findings of which appear in The American Journal of Gastroenterology — analyzed data from 204 people who received medical care for COVID-19 between January 18 and February 28, 2020.

The patients had an average age of 54.9 years, and of the total, 107 were male and 97 female.

When they presented to a hospital, 99 of the 204 people — or 48.5% — were experiencing digestive symptoms.

The main digestive symptoms among the study cohort were a lack of appetite, in 83 individuals, and diarrhea, in 29.

Other symptoms included vomiting, in eight individuals, and abdominal
pain, in four.

The study authors also note that seven of the patients with COVID-19 had no respiratory symptoms but did experience digestive symptoms.

Moreover, the digestive symptoms among the larger group grew more severe as the severity of COVID-19 increased, the researchers report.

Overall, they determine, people without digestive symptoms appeared to be more likely to recover from COVID-19 and be discharged from the hospital than those with digestive symptoms, at a ratio of 60% in the former group to 34.3% in the latter.

Given these findings, the authors advise that “The index of suspicion may need to be raised earlier in at-risk patients presenting with digestive symptoms, rather than waiting for respiratory symptoms to emerge.”

In the study paper — the first author of which is Dr. Lei Pan, from Binzhou Medical University Hospital, in China — the investigators emphasize that:

“With the evolution of the pandemic and the accumulation of case data, we are now able to describe the initial clinical presentations and chief complaint of patients with COVID-19; our experience is revealing, in that digestive symptoms are very common.”

For live updates on the latest developments regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, click here.

For information on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus, this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page provides advice.

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