COVID-19 Survivors Face High Risk of Long-Term Gastrointestinal Issues

In a new study that appeared in Nature Communications, individuals who recovered from COVID-19 may be at a greater risk of experiencing long-term gastrointestinal problems.

These symptoms might vary from constipation and diarrhea to more serious problems such as persistent heartburn, pancreatitis, and bile duct irritation.

While this may not come as a surprise to individuals who have endured long periods of COVID, the study is one of the most detailed and comprehensive to date, relying on health records from over 11.6 million people in Department of Veterans Affairs archives.

Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the VA Saint Louis Health Care System in Saint Louis, led the research. Al-Aly and his team reviewed the medical data of nearly 154,000 people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 from March 2020 to January 2021.

The researchers next assessed the relationship between the prevalence of gastrointestinal issues among COVID survivors a year after infection and the rates found in two control cohorts.

One was a recent cohort of nearly 5.6 million people who showed no signs of COVID-19 infection from March 2020 through January 2021. The other cohort included 5.8 million persons who were followed for a year prior to the pandemic and acted as a control group for unreported COVID-19 infections in the current cohort.

The researchers discovered that COVID-19 survivors had increased relative and absolute risks for a variety of pre-identified gastrointestinal diseases and symptoms, as measured by the additional burden of disease per 1,000 people.

COVID-19 survivors showed greater rates of constipation, diarrhea, stomach discomfort, vomiting, and bloating during the year following their infection as compared with the control groups.

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