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  

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  1. Guan WJ, Ni ZY, Hu Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of Coronavirus disease 2019 in China. N Eng J Med 2020, Feb 28.
  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)
  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.
  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.
  5. Gu J, Han B, Wang J. COVID-19: Gastrointestinal manifestations and potential fecal-oral transmission. J Gastroenterol
  6. Wolfel R, Corman VM, Guggemos W, et al. Virological assessment of hospitalized patients with Covid-2019. Nature, April 1, 2020.
  7. Xiao F, Tang M, Zheng X, et al. Evidence of gastrointestinal infection of SARS-CoV-2. Gastroenterology 2020, March 3.
  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.
  9. Goyal P, Choi JJ, Pinheiro LC, et al. Clinical characteristics of Covid-19 in New York City. N Engl J Med 2020.

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?