The coronavirus infection it can leave long-term sequelae, such as persistent COVID, and also increase the chances of developing other diseases. Now, new research has found that people who have had COVID-19 have increased risk of gastrointestinal disorders in the year after infection than those who have not been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Gastrointestinal disorders can range from mild stomach problems to life-threatening illnesses such as liver failure or acute pancreatitis. The main conditions that the study authors have linked to COVID are liver disease, acute pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux, and peptic ulcers (inner lining of the stomach or upper part of the small intestine). Other intestinal disorders associated with COVID are constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and distension, and vomiting.
“Gastrointestinal problems were among the first reported by the patient community,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis who has extensively studied the long-term effects of infection with COVID-19 and main author of the work. “It is increasingly clear that the gastrointestinal tract serves as a reservoir of the virus”.
“Vaccines do not offer complete protection against long-term symptoms of COVID-19 that can affect the heart, lungs, brain, and gastrointestinal tract”
The findings have been published in Nature Communications and build on previous Al-Aly research describing the lingering effects of COVID-19 in organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys, among others. “The virus can be destructive, even among those who are considered healthy or who have had mild infections. We are seeing the ability of COVID-19 to attack any organ system in the body, sometimes with serious long-term consequences, including death,” Al-Aly warns.
Researchers believe that infections caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have so far contributed to more than 6 million new cases of gastrointestinal disorders in the United States and 42 million new cases worldwide. Al-Aly, who treats patients within the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Health Care System and is its research and development service chief, says that given the number of patients affected, it is “crucial to include the gastrointestinal health as an integral part of post-acute COVID care.”
Up to 62% more risk of ulcer after passing COVID
The researchers analyzed some 14 million anonymous medical records from a database of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation’s largest integrated health care system, and from there built a controlled data set of 154,068 people who had tested positive for COVID between March 1, 2020 and January 15, 2021 and had survived the first 30 days after infection.
They used a statistical model to compare the gastrointestinal outcomes in the COVID-19 data set with two other groups of uninfected individuals: a control group of more than 5.6 million people who did not have COVID during the same time period. ; and a control group of more than 5.8 million people from March 1, 2018, to December 31, 2019, long before the coronavirus caused a pandemic.
Most of the people included in the study were older white men, but data from more than 1.1 million women and adults of all races and ages were also analyzed. The results showed that generally the gastrointestinal disorders were 36% more likely in people with COVID-19 – regardless of whether or not they were hospitalized – compared to those who had not been infected with the virus.
Few of these people had been vaccinated against COVID-19 because the vaccines were not widely available during the study period (between March 2020 and early January 2021) and SARS-CoV-2 variants such as delta and omicron. The most recent data indicates that COVID-19 vaccines provide some protection against long-term COVID, however, Al-Aly cautions: “While vaccines can help reduce the risks of long-term COVID, they do not offer complete protection against the long-term symptoms of COVID-19 that can affect the heart, lungs, brain, and now, we know, the gastrointestinal tract.”
The results showed that people who had had COVID-19 had a 62% increased risk of developing peptic ulcers, a 35% increased risk of gastrointestinal reflux, and a 46% increased risk of acute pancreatitis, compared with those who had not. they had infected. Individuals who had passed COVID were also 54% more likely to develop irritable bowel syndrome, 47% more likely to experience inflammation of the stomach lining, 36% more likely to have an upset stomach for no apparent reason, and 54% more likely to experience digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, and abdominal pain.