Story at a glance

  • The study found 48.5 percent of participants experienced symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
  • The most common issues associated with novel coronavirus are respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or shortness of breath.
  • Patients without digestive issues were more likely to be cured and discharged from the hospital.

Digestive issues such as diarrhea or vomiting could be early symptoms of novel coronavirus infection for many, Chinese researchers report in a new study

Researchers behind the study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology this week analyzed data from 204 COVID-19 patients who were admitted to three hospitals in the Hubei province between Jan. 18 and Feb 28; the province of Hubei is where the outbreak started in late December.


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The study found almost half — 48.5 percent — of participants said their main complaint was digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. About 7 percent reported experiencing no respiratory symptoms, which is the most common issue associated with the new novel coronavirus

“Clinicians must bear in mind that digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, may be a presenting feature of COVID-19,” researchers said in the study. “And that the index of suspicion may need to be raised earlier in these cases rather than waiting for respiratory symptoms to emerge.”


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Researchers said patients with digestive symptoms experienced a longer time from symptom onset to hospital admission than those without digestive symptoms, nine days versus 7.3 days. The study suggests patients with digestive symptoms waited longer to seek medical attention because they did not suspect they had COVID-19 due to the absence of respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or shortness of breath. 

Patients who did not experience digestive symptoms were more likely to be cured and discharged than those with digestive issues, 60 percent versus 34 percent, according to the study. 

The study comes as more than 250,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide with more than 10,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Published on Mar 20, 2020