Digesting the latest facts: Early symptoms of COVID-19 include queasiness, upset stomach

March 23, 2020

The latest information about the novel coronavirus might be particularly hard to swallow. Until now, we’ve been looking for symptoms of fever and cough—but recent word on the disease indicates that it might start with an upset stomach, The New York Daily News reports.

Nearly half of the patients hospitalized in Wuhan and the wider Chinese province of Hubei, where the fast-spreading sickness was initially discovered, suffered from digestive issues, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Researchers analyzed data from 204 people diagnosed with COVID-19 who were admitted to three different hospitals in the region between January 18 and February 28. The average age was 55. According to the report, 48.5% of those patients said their “chief complaint” was digestive problems, including upset stomach, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

“Clinicians must bear in mind that digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, may be a presenting feature of COVID-19, and that the index suspicion may need to be raised earlier in these cases rather than waiting for respiratory symptoms to emerge,” wrote investigators with the Wuhan Medical Treatment Expert Group for COVID-19.

Most people diagnosed with the coronavirus have respiratory symptoms, including a cough and difficulty breathing — but 7% of the patients analyzed did not have any such problems at all.

Researchers noted patients with digestive symptoms also typically waited longer to seek treatment than those without them, the Daily News noted.

“We’re so focused on a cough and fever, but it’s possible there are people with digestive symptoms that are not being tested,” said Dr. Brennan Spiegel, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

He told NY1 that, while the study is only preliminary, it highlights a need to re-evaluate testing criteria so medical officials can move faster to diagnose and quarantine patients.

“People with digestive symptoms in Wuhan presented for care later, on average two days later, compared with those who didn’t have digestive symptoms, because they didn’t suspect they had COVID-19.”

Research contact: @NYDailyNews

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