Digestive discomforts – another pain caused by COVID-19

I wrote this article as I have read a very interesting scientific article by Pan et al. (2020) published in American Journal of Gastroenterology, which I believe must be known by the public.

Please note, however, that the authors and editor of the journal mentioned that this article is not yet the final version, as this will still undergo copy editing, type setting and review. But the top-line result, which is the occurrence of digestive symptoms among COVID-19 patients, remains unchanged. Please also take note that since the publication of researches regarding COVID-19 is expected to be “fast yet accurate” as this is intended to be known by the public, having disclaimers from the authors are expected. These scientists are trying to help medical practitioners in addressing this deadly disease.

Despite this article being “not-yet-final” version, I believe it is still backed with scientific facts and statistics, and hence, is worth sharing. This article has also been cited by other scientific articles, which also reported similar results. This is an additional information to the public to be aware of the symptoms caused by COVID-19. And so, I decided to simplify the information. 🙂

There are different symptoms you may have heard/read and these include the following:

COVID-19 Symptoms

At this time, the effects of COVID-19 remain severe in almost all countries around the world. Since its announcement as a pandemic disease, COVID-19 has been almost always evident as a respiratory illness. People start panicking (who doesn’t?) when they hear someone cough (a dry cough), and suddenly we appreciate having a ‘wet cough’ (the type of cough accompanied by phlegm) instead. So what’s the real story now?

Yes, symptoms of pneumonia are still one of the clear symptoms of COVID-19. However, the team of Pan et al. (2020) observed another discomfort experienced in addition to fever and respiratory illnesses – digestive symptoms. Their experiment started from 18th of January until 28th of February (though they still collected data in March) by analyzing the COVID-19 patients’ records in three hospitals within Hubei province in China.

Now let’s talk about what they found out in more detail.

Half of the evaluated patients had digestive symptoms 😦

The researchers found that half of the tested COVID-19 patients complained of digestive symptoms. Mainly, these patients suffered loose bowel (diarrhea). They also found that most patients with digestive symptoms did not “initially” exhibit respiratory illnesses. So what’s the importance of this observation?

“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.”

Pan et al. (2020)

This is important because we want a timely diagnoses and treatment for COVID-19.

There are many reasons why COVID-19 appears to cause digestive symptoms to the patients. First, this virus, just like the SARS virus we encountered years ago, can bind to the so-called “angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptor”, which causes liver damage.

COVID-19 binding to ACE-2 receptor causing liver damage. 😦

Second, COVID-19 may directly or indirectly damage the digestive system through inflammatory response. Since the virus has entered the body, it can damage the lining of the intestines thereby causing digestive symptoms. Studies revealed that the viral nucleic acid has been found in stool (aka poop) samples among patients. However, the authors claimed that this still needs further studies.

An inflamed digestive system.

Lastly, the authors mentioned that COVID-19 causes disorder among the intestinal normal flora (the microbes normally/naturally present inside our gut). These normal flora are responsible for the body’s metabolism, and so, once an invader enters the system, chaos is expected. As a consequence, patients experience digestive symptoms. Also, this disorder will affect the respiratory tract. This is the reason why those patients with COVID-19 pneumonia experience digestive symptoms.

Disorder among the intestinal normal flora.

Whew! Alright. This is another important observation in the hope of ending this pandemic disease. From this research, all clinicians will be aware that digestive symptoms are also crucial in ruling out whether the patient is infected with COVID-19 or not. Though this research is still not final, this serves as a heads-up for everyone. Please note that my blog post is a simplified version of the study. To read more about this article, you may click this link to access the full paper: https://journals.lww.com/ajg/Documents/COVID_Digestive_Symptoms_AJG_Preproof.pdf.

Hopefully, all scientists around the globe who are searching for the ultimate cure for COVID-19 will soon find it. I sincerely hope that the curve will be flattened soon — no more infections, no more deaths.

Take care everyone! Adios!

Reference: Pan et al. Clinical characteristics of COVID-19 patients with digestive symptoms in Hubei, China: a descriptive, cross-sectional, multicenter study. American Journal of Gastroenterology 20. Retrieved on 15 March 2020.

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