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.8 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
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- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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