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It’s become clear that the problems that COVID-19 causes don’t necessarily end when you’re declared free of infection.
In fact, studies have suggested that the virus can cause lasting damage, from heart and breathing problems to kidney failure; and has been linked to eye issues that can cause blindness and to the development of Parkinson’s.
Most of us are lucky enough to have experienced only a mild bout with COVID-19 — but if you’ve noticed some uncomfortable GI symptoms post-infection, COVID may be to blame for that too…
The GI tract: a virus reservoir
Researchers at Washington University have been detailing COVID-19’s lingering effects since the beginning of the pandemic. To date, they’ve cataloged approximately 80 adverse health outcomes associated with long COVID-19.
According to senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at the university, “Gastrointestinal problems were among the first that were reported by the patient community. It is increasingly clear that the GI tract serves as a reservoir for the virus.”
So the team decided to extend their research to look into the virus’ effect on the GI system by analyzing about 14 million medical records. This resulted in the creation of a controlled data set of 154,068 people who had tested positive for COVID-19.
They then used statistical modeling to compare GI outcomes in the COVID-19 data set with two other groups of people not infected with the virus.
Overall, they found that beyond the first 30 days of infection, people with COVID were 36 percent more likely to suffer from a GI disorder than those who had not been infected with the virus.
Compared with patients in the control groups, people who had a previous COVID-19 infection were:
- 62 percent more likely to develop ulcers in the lining of the stomach or small intestine
- 35 percent more likely to suffer from acid reflux disease
- 46 percent more likely to experience acute pancreatitis
- 54 percent more likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome
- 47 percent more likely to experience inflammation of the stomach lining
- 36 percent more likely to have an upset stomach without an obvious cause
And that’s not all of it…
COVID-19 patients experienced a 54 percent higher chance of living with digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, vomiting and abdominal pain.
GI conditions that the researchers say were associated with a COVID infection ranged from mild stomach issues to life-threatening conditions such as liver failure.
In all, the team estimates that so far, COVID-19 has contributed to more than six million new cases of GI disorders in the US alone!
Post-COVID gut help
If you were infected with COVID-19 and are now living with serious GI complaints, hopefully, your doctor is aware and doing what he can.
If your symptoms are more uncomfortable and annoying, such as mild IBS or acid reflux, a temporary diet change could provide the relief you need.
According to Dr. Mark Wiley, acid reflux and IBS sufferers should consume plenty of water, alkaline foods (like green leafy vegetables). These are nutritious foods that do not foster an acidic environment in the body (important during the healing process) and that also promote normal bowel elimination.
Fiber may be tricky for you. Fiber helps reduce constipation by helping form stools, but too much can cause cramping and gas. If adding fiber increases your discomfort, cut back down and plan to add it in gradually as your gut heals.
If you’re new to IBS due to COVID, you may not be aware that part of what’s causing your symptoms may be gluten. It irritates the bowels and can cause diarrhea. As such, avoiding products made with wheat, rye and barley (including bread, crackers, etc.) can be helpful.
Digestive enzymes can go a long way in helping with the cramping, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas that accidental exposure to gluten can cause.
If fatigue is an unwelcomed bonus to your GI symptoms following a COVID infection, there’s good news: L-arginine and liposomal vitamin C were found to improve that complaint in just 28 days.
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