Digestive issues could be first sign of coronavirus infection, study finds

by WorldTribune Staff, March 22, 2020

Digestive issues could be the first symptom of a coronavirus infection, according to a new study.

Although most patients with COVID-19 have respiratory symptoms, the Wuhan Medical Treatment Expert Group for COVID-19 found that many patients also had digestive problems in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, China. These digestive issues include diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

“This may lead to earlier diagnosis of COVID-19, which can lead to earlier treatment and more expeditious quarantine to minimize transmission from people who otherwise remain undiagnosed,” according to the study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology on Wednesday.

Specifically, the study found 99 of the 204 researched patients with COVID-19, 48.5 percent, had digestive symptoms as their “chief complaint.”

“Clinicians should recognize that digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, may be a presenting feature of COVID-19, and that the index of suspicion may need to be raised earlier in at-risk patients presenting with digestive symptoms rather than waiting for respiratory symptoms to emerge,” the study said.

Of the 99 patients who complained of digestive symptoms, seven reported not having any respiratory problems, which has been one of the most common signs of the coronavirus.

The study also found that there was a larger gap in time between illness onset and hospital admission for patients with digestive symptoms than patients without (nine days vs. 7.3 days), suggesting that those with digestive issues waited longer before going to the hospital because they didn’t suspect they had the coronavirus.

The study also found that patients without digestive symptoms were more likely to be cured than those who reported digestive symptoms (60 percent compared to 30.4 percent).

“In this study, COVID-19 patients with digestive symptoms have a worse clinical outcome and higher risk of mortality compared to those without digestive symptoms, emphasizing the importance of including symptoms like diarrhea to suspect COVID-19 early in the disease course before respiratory symptoms develop,” American Journal of Gastroenterology Co-Editor-in-Chief Brennan M.R. Spiegel said in a news release.

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