According to a new study, stomach issues like diarrhea could be the first sign of coronavirus infection.
While COVID-19 is most closely associated with respiratory symptoms, the Wuhan Medical Treatment Expert Group has learned that many patients also had digestive problems like diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
48.5% of the researched patients with COVID-19 listed digestive issues as their chief complaint in the study, which was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology on Wednesday.
“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 researchers said.
Of the 99 cases with digestive symptoms, seven had no respiratory problems, which has been one of the most common signs of the disease.
The study also posited a larger time gap between illness onset and hospital admission for patients with digestive symptoms (nine days without vs. seven and a third days with). These patients waited so long because they didn’t believe they had the virus.
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. 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,” said American Journal of Gastroenterology Co-Editor-in-Chief Brennan M.R. Spiegel.
As the severity of the virus increased, digestive symptoms become even more serious.
The study’s authors said, “This is important because if clinicians solely monitor for respiratory symptoms to establish case definitions for COVID-19, they may miss cases initially presenting with extra-pulmonary symptoms, or the disease may not be diagnosed later until respiratory symptoms emerge.”
However, the researchers did acknowledge that more studies needed to be conducted to evaluate the “prevalence, incidence, predictors, and outcomes of digestive symptoms in this still-emerging pandemic.”
On Friday morning, there were more than 263,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the world. These include at least 10,444 fatalities, though 87,351 people have recovered from the virus. In the United States alone, 14,631 confirmed cases and 210 deaths have already happened as of Friday.