Diarrhoea and vomiting could be early signs – Scientist warns

Digestive problems such as diarrhoea, vomiting and loss of appetite could be a symptom of coronavirus, a study has found.

A study of 204 patients in Wuhan, ground-zero for the COVID-19 outbreak, found 99 patients (48.5 per cent) went to hospital with digestive issues as their main ailment.

The majority of these people did not have underlying digestive diseases.

Loss of appetite (83 per cent) and diarrhoea (29 per cent) were the main symptoms for patients exhibiting digestive problems.

Other digestive issues reported include vomiting (0.8 per cent) and abdominal pain (0.4 per cent).

Most patients did also experience respiratory issues — such as a persistent dry cough or trouble breathing — as well as digestive concerns, but seven patients in the study showed only digestive symptoms.

The study, conducted by Chinese researchers, has been scrutinised by other academics and published this week in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Researchers studied 107 men and 94 women with an average age of 55 that had all tested positive for COVID-19 between January 18 and February 28.


Chinese researchers believe COVID-19 appears to cause digestive symptoms because SARS-CoV-2 is similar to SARS-CoV and can invade the human body by binding to the human angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptor.

This can cause liver tissue injury by making too many liver cells, called hepatocytes, derived from ells in the bile duct.

Secondly, SARS-CoV-2 indirectly or directly damages the digestive system through an inflammatory response.

The chain reaction may injure the digestive system.

Ninety-nine had digestive symptoms and 92 of these also suffered with respiratory problems as a result of the infection.

The researchers add: ‘Among the 105 patients without digestive symptoms, 85 presented only with respiratory symptoms, and 20 neither had respiratory nor digestive symptoms as their chief complain.’

The study also found the digestive issues worsened as the severity of the disease increased.

Patients without digestive symptoms in this study were more likely to be cured and discharged than patients with digestive symptoms, the scientists say.

Around a third (34.3 per cent) of patients that did experience digestive problems were discharged by March 5, when the study stopped collecting data.

This figure for successful treatment rises to 60 per cent for people who did not experience digestive symptoms.

The researchers write in their research: ‘We found that digestive symptoms are a common presenting complaint in patients with COVID-19.

‘Compared to patients without digestive symptoms, those presenting with digestive symptoms have a longer time from onset to admission and a worse prognosis.’


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