How common are gastrointestinal symptoms in Covid-19?

Although GI symptoms such as diarrhea or nausea were initially thought to be uncommon among Covid-19 patients,1,2 more recent reports suggest that GI symptoms are relatively common.3-8

A review article found that as many as 50.0% of Covid-19 patients had diarrhea, ~30.0% had nausea, ~14.0% had gastrointestinal bleed, and 6.0% had abdominal pain. In a case series from New York City, ~25.0% of patients presented with diarrhea, while ~20.0% had nausea and vomiting. 9 

Some patients may have GI symptoms in the absence of any respiratory complaints.  Fecal tests for RNA  have found nearly one-third to a half of patients with Covid-19 shedding the virus, with some patients testing positive even after  respiratory specimens test negative.8 How often these patients harbor viable or infectious virus is not known, however.

Some have reported that as the severity of the disease worsens so do the GI symptoms.3 GI symptoms have also been associated with later presentation of Covid-19, higher liver enzymes and longer prothrombin time.3

Although the exact mechanism of GI symptoms in Covid-19 is unclear, direct invasion of virus is a plausible explanation. Indeed, potential targets for SARS-CoV-2 virus, the ACE2-expressing cells, have been identified in the GI tract, including the esophagus, gastric, intestinal and colonic epithelial cells.5,8  

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

 References

 

  1. Guan WJ, Ni ZY, Hu Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of Coronavirus disease 2019 in China. N Eng J Med 2020, Feb 28. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2002032
  2. Young BE, Ong SWX, Kalimuddin S, et al. Epidemiologic features and clinical course of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Singapore. JAMA. March 3, 2020. (17% diarrhea) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762688
  3. Pan L, Mu M, Yang P, et al. Clinical characteristics of COVID-19 patients with digestive symptoms in Hubei, China: a descriptive, cross-sectional, multicenter study. Am j Gastroenterol 2020. https://journals.lww.com/ajg/Documents/COVID_Digestive_Symptoms_AJG_Preproof.pdf
  4. Huang C, Wang Y, Li X, et al. Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novle coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Lancet 2020;395:497-506. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30183-5/fulltext
  5. Gu J, Han B, Wang J. COVID-19: Gastrointestinal manifestations and potential fecal-oral transmission. J Gastroenterol https://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(20)30281-X/pdf
  6. Wolfel R, Corman VM, Guggemos W, et al. Virological assessment of hospitalized patients with Covid-2019. Nature, April 1, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1038/a41586-020-2196-x
  7. Xiao F, Tang M, Zheng X, et al. Evidence of gastrointestinal infection of SARS-CoV-2. Gastroenterology 2020, March 3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508520302821?via%3Dihub
  8. Tian Y, Rong L, Nian W, et al. Review article: gastrointestinal features in COVID-19 and the possibility of faecal transmission. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2020;March 29. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.15731
  9. Goyal P, Choi JJ, Pinheiro LC, et al. Clinical characteristics of Covid-19 in New York City. N Engl J Med 2020.  https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2010419

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

 

How common are gastrointestinal symptoms in Covid-19?

Could constipation contribute to hyperkalemia in my patient with chronic kidney disease?

Yes! Constipation may be an important contributor to hyperkalemia in some patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD).

 Under normal conditions, 80-90% of excess dietary potassium (K+) is excreted by the kidneys, with the remainder excreted through the GI tract.1 However, in advanced CKD, particularly in the setting of end-stage kidney disease (ESKD), the GI tract assumes a much more important role in maintaining K+ balance. 

As early as 1960’s, the daily fecal excretion of K+ was found to be directly related to the wet stool weight, irrespective of creatinine clearance. Furthermore, K+ excretion in stool was as high as ~80% of dietary intake (average 37%) in some hemodialysis (HD) patients compared to normal controls (average 12%). 2

Such increase in K+ excretion in the GI tract of patients with CKD was later found to be primarily the result of K+ secretion into the colon/rectum rather than reduced dietary K+ absorption in the small intestine 1,3, was inversely related to residual kidney function, and as a consequence could serve as the main route of K+ excretion in patients with ESKD. 4

Collectively, these findings suggest that in addition to non-dietary factors such as medications, we may need to routinely consider constipation as a potential cause of hyperkalemia in patients with advanced CKD or ESKD. 1

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that secretion of K+ by the apical surface of colonic epithelial is mediated in part by aldosterone-dependent mechanisms? 5

Liked this post? Download the app on your smart phone and sign up below to catch future pearls right into your inbox, all for free!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

References

  1. St-Jules DE, Goldfarb DS, Sevick MA. Nutrient non-equivalence: does restricting high-potassium plant foods help to prevent hyperkalemia in hemodialysis patients? J Ren. Nutr 2016;26: 282-87. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26975777
  2. Hayes CP, McLeod ME, Robinson RR. An extrarenal mechanism for the maintenance of potassium balance in severe chronic renal failure. Trans Assoc Am Physicians 1967;80:207-16.
  3. Martin RS, Panese S, Virginillo M, et al. Increased secretion of potassium in the rectum of humans with chronic renal failure. Am J Kidney Dis 1986;8:105-10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3740056
  4. Cupisti A, Kovesdy CP, D’Alessandro C, et al. Dietary approach to recurrent or chronic hyperkalemia in patients with decreased kidney function. Nutrients 2018, 10, 261;doi:10.3390/nu10030261. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872679/
  5. Battle D, Boobes K, Manjee KG. The colon as the potassium target: entering the colonic age of hyperkalemia treatment. EBioMedicine 2015;2: 1562-1563. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4740340/pdf/main.pdf

 

Contributed in part by Alex Blair, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

If you liked this post, sign up under Menu and receive future pearls right into your mailbox!

Could constipation contribute to hyperkalemia in my patient with chronic kidney disease?