Your Tummy is Talking. Are You listening?

MUSC Health
March 18, 2021
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By: Roger Polsky, NP
MUSC Health - Gastroenterology

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has developed as a tremendous threat to global health and safety. Although the majority of COVID-19 patients show respiratory symptoms, some present with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain as their initial complaint. A recent study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology looked at coronavirus patients recently hospitalized. More than 50% of them reported digestive symptoms as their initial complaint before the onset of respiratory symptoms. GI symptoms can also occur as viruses destroy or damage GI tissues, causing pain, nausea, and diarrhea. Some research shows that COVID-19 may also change the gut microbiota, the community of microbes that usually inhabit the intestines or stomach. Unexpected GI symptoms can come from a change in medication, food that has expired or you’re intolerant to, heavy exertion or exercises like running, and a variety of other scenarios. So it’s important you reach out to your medical provider as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms. If someone in your home is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, and especially if they are having digestive symptoms, precautions should be taken to minimize the spread of this disease. Precautions include: Isolating from others within the home; Wearing a mask; Washing hands frequently; Routinely cleaning the bathroom and other high-touch surfaces (such as doorknobs) in the home with bleach; Closing the lid before you flush the toilet; and if at all possible, use a separate bathroom.

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, or nausea can have many causes other than COVID-19. Experiencing any of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have COVID-19, but they may be early warning signs especially if they are followed by respiratory symptoms. You can treat the digestive symptoms of COVID-19 by staying hydrated, avoiding foods that upset your stomach, getting as much rest as possible, and most importantly stay home! The majority of people with COVID-19 will develop mild symptoms, including GI problems. If you want to get in touch with a health care provider, many clinics offer phone or video appointments to reduce the spread of the virus. If you develop more serious symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Symptoms include:

  • trouble breathing
  • pain or pressure in the chest
  • confusion or an inability to wake
  • blue lips or face

Roger Polsky is a nurse practitioner at MUSC Health – Gastroenterology. For more information call 843-674-1530, or visit muschealth.org/florence.