COVID Increases Risk of Long-Term GI Troubles: Study

2 min read

March 8, 2023 – People who have had COVID-19 have a higher risk of developing new, long-term digestive problems, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

In the study of more than 11 million people, those who had COVID were 36% more likely to develop a GI disorder than people who have never had the virus. New gastrointestinal problems included irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, or vomiting. 

“Gastrointestinal problems were among the first that were reported by the patient community,”  researcher Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis who has studied extensively the long-term effects of COVID infection, says in a statement. “It is increasingly clear that the GI tract serves as a reservoir for the virus.”

The GI system makes enzymes to aid in the digestion of food and liquids. The system includes the liver, pancreas, mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum, and anus. Conditions people were more likely to experience ranged from mild stomach issues to life-threatening events such as liver failure and acute pancreatitis. The increased risk lasted at least 1 year following COVID infection.

For the study, researchers used health data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Data for 154,068 people diagnosed with COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 to January 2021 was compared to data for people who didn't get COVID.

People who had mild cases or severe ones requiring hospitalization were all more likely to have GI issues following a COVID infection.

The study had some limitations to consider when interpreting the results. The data mainly came from older white males, few people had been vaccinated so early in the pandemic, and infections did not include later variants of COVID such as Delta and Omicron. The authors note that other research has shown that vaccines provide some protection against long COVID, which is the term used for COVID symptoms that stay around long after initial infection.

Researchers say their findings could mean a need for gastrointestinal monitoring and specialized care following COVID infection.

“The risks and burdens are not trivial – suggesting that post-acute covid care strategies should include attention to gastrointestinal disease,” they write.

Show Sources


Washington University: “COVID-19 infections raise risk of long-term gastrointestinal problems.”

Nature Communications: “Long-term gastrointestinal outcomes of COVID-19.”

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