Malnutrition, other gastrointestinal issues are common in Long COVID

Did you know that diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are all common COVID-19 symptoms? I knew they were included on the CDC’s list of symptoms, but I didn’t realize how often these symptoms occur—or how nasty they can get—until I reported this story for Gothamist, a news site run by New York City’s public radio station.

The story focuses on a recent paper from Northwell Health, a hospital system in NYC. Northwell clinicians investigated rates of gastrointestinal symptoms (or, symptoms in the digestive system) among their COVID-19 patients. Out of 17,500 patients, over 3,200 had gastrointestinal symptoms—almost 20% of the group. These symptoms included diarrhea caused by intestinal infection, bleeding in the GI tract, and malnutrition.

For several hundred patients, the researchers were able to track their GI symptoms for six months after they left the hospital. This led to another concerning discovery: at the six-month mark, more than half of the patients who’d suffered malnutrition in the hospital were still experiencing this symptom. Same thing for the patients who’d suffered chronic weight loss.

In reporting this story, I also talked to Lauren Nichols—a Long COVID patient and advocate with Body Politic. She’s been facing COVID-related GI symptoms for eighteen months, ranging from intensive diarrhea in spring 2020 to an inability to gain weight and, now, potential autoimmune issues. Many other Long COVID patients have experienced these symptoms, according to a large survey of patients.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Long COVID provides a great argument in favor of getting vaccinated. This disease isn’t just a run-of-the-mill cough, or flu—it can truly mess up people’s lives in the long term.

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