Doctors: Stomach cramps, diarrhea among possible coronavirus symptoms

By now, most people have memorized the key symptoms of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19: fever, dry cough, shortness of breath. It’s repeated like a mantra by medical professionals, by online posters and by your college roommate whom you’ve been emailing lately out of loneliness and boredom.

But medical experts are now saying they’ve identified another possible symptom of COVID-19 — gastrointestinal problems. During a conference call Tuesday morning, Dr. Ajay Kumar, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare, mentioned that patients with COVID-19 could have stomach cramps, diarrhea or vomiting before other symptoms develop.

“I don’t say this to panic anyone,” he said, asking that people be aware of this as a possible symptom.

Other doctors, both locally and nationwide, agreed that GI issues are a symptom of COVID-19 that professionals are just starting to pick up on.

Earlier this month, the American Journal of Gastroenterology published a report studying 204 COVID-19 patients in Hubei, China who presented at three hospitals between Jan. 18 and Feb. 28. The study found that roughly half of them — 48.5 percent — presented with gastrointestinal symptoms. In most cases, the GI symptoms abated as the disease progressed.

The findings represented another wrinkle in an increasingly complex illness, said Dr. Zane Saul, chief of infectious disease at Bridgeport Hospital.

“We’ve seen all types of symptoms,” he said. “It’s hard to know what the reason is.”

Saul echoed other doctors’ statements that diarrhea and other symptoms typically occur early in the onset of the disease. Some patients don’t get these symptoms at all, Saul said, but someone who does have them should let a doctor know, particularly if they have come into contact with someone who has the illness.

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