A Gut Feeling: Long COVID and GI symptoms
Over the past two years, it has become clear that post COVID syndrome (PCS) is more than just fatigue and shortness of breath. Symptoms such as headaches, brain fog, ringing in the ears, and even eye changes have been reported as part of PCS, and it seems that every day we are learning more about possibly related symptoms.
One group of symptoms we are hearing more about lately involves the gastrointestinal (GI) system. In our COVID Activity Rehabilitation Program (CARP), patients have reported a wide variety of GI issues, ranging from mild nausea and decreased appetite to severe and new constipation and food intolerance.
And what we have seen firsthand has also been documented in medical literature. A study published in March 2022 found that in 147 patients with no prior GI problems, 16% reported having new GI symptoms roughly 100 days after their SARS-COV2 infection.1 The most common symptoms included:
- Abdominal pain 7.5%
- Constipation 6.8%
- Diarrhea 4.1%
- Vomiting 4.1%
Similarly, in a study published in April 2022, researchers found that patients with PCS were experiencing Disorders of Gut Brain Interaction (DGBI).2 Symptoms with this condition included:
- Troubles swallowing
- Irritable bowel syndrome
While we are not sure yet, there are several possible ways the COVID-19 infection could cause GI problems. For example, the lining of the gut has a large amount of the receptors that the SARS-COV2 virus uses to invade cells. The general inflammation caused by the infection can also disrupt the normal bacteria that live in the gut and stimulate some of the GI system nerves.
What should you do if you are experiencing GI symptoms as part of PCS?
First, make sure to adequately hydrate and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Fad and extreme diets have not been found to be helpful in PCS. Instead, we recommend a standard Mediterranean diet with a reduction in processed foods. Second, avoid using lots of over-the-counter products to treat your symptoms. Sometimes, this can make the problem worse. Instead, speak to your medical professional first to develop a treatment plan.
Hopefully, with more research, we will be able to offer more treatments that get patients feeling better faster.
- JW B, J L, D J, DE F. Prevalence and risk factors for gastrointestinal symptoms after recovery from COVID-19. Neurogastroenterology and motility : the official journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society. 2022;34(3).
- R EN, A S, I S, et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms and the severity of COVID-19: Disorders of gut-brain interaction are an outcome. Neurogastroenterology and motility : the official journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society. 2022.