March 10, 2023

Study: COVID-19 infection raises risk of long-term GI disorders

Editor's Note

An analysis of federal health data, done by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care system, showed that those who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus are at “increased risk of developing gastrointestinal (GI) disorders within a year after infection” compared with those who haven’t been infected, Healthcare Purchasing News March 8 reports.

The researchers estimate that, so far, infections caused by SARS-CoV-2 have contributed to more than 6 million new cases of GI disorders in the US and 42 million new cases worldwide. “Altogether, our results show that people with SARS-CoV-2 infection are at increased risk of gastrointestinal disorders in the post-acute phase of COVID-19. Post-COVID care should involve attention to gastrointestinal health and disease,” noted the study. The increased GI disorders include liver problems, acute pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and ulcers in the lining of the stomach or upper intestine. “The post-COVID-19 GI tract also is associated with an increased likelihood of constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and vomiting,” the article further noted.

The study was published by Nature Communications on March 7 and encompassed a controlled data set built from the US Department of Veterans Affairs national healthcare databases of 154,068 people who tested positive for COVID-19 anytime between March 1, 2020, and January 15, 2021. This group was compared against GI outcomes in two other groups of people not infected with the virus: a control group of more than 5.6 million people who did not have COVID-19 during the same time frame, and a control group of more than 5.8 million people from before the first recorded case of COVID-19 infection, between March 1, 2018, to December 31, 2019.

“Gastrointestinal problems were among the first that were reported by the patient community,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University. “It is increasingly clear that the GI tract serves as a reservoir for the virus.”

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