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Here's what to look out for with gastrointestinal COVID-19 symptoms

Many coronavirus patients experience stomach issues as a side effect of the virus. A Portland gastroenterologist breaks down when it is time to alert you doctor.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After Thanksgiving socializing, area health officials are asking us all to pay even more attention to our health. However, from a cough to body aches, it can be tricky navigating the signs of coronavirus.

“The range is just incredible,” The Oregon Clinic Gastroenterologist Dr. Swapna Reddy said.

Many people with COVID-19 experience gastrointestinal symptoms; about 20% of patients, according to Dr. Reddy.

Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of COVID-19 include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Those symptoms sometimes can come before the fever, cough, chest pain or loss of taste and smell, according to Reddy.

“When you have GI symptoms that then progress to high-fever, shortness of breath – those sometimes can actually signify that you can get more moderate to severe disease,” Reddy said. “So, you want to pay attention to that and you definitely want to report that to your health care professional.”

Of course, those types of tummy troubles can be the cause of a lot of other GI issues. And with 2020 being what it is, stress is a big factor.

“In the midst of the COVID pandemic; stress is high, anxiety is high, and there’s definitely a lot of different, common, gastrointestinal problems that can get worse; acid reflux, irritable bowls,” she said.

So, how do we know if it’s a symptom of COVID-19 or something else? When is it time to seek medical help?

Dr. Reddy says there are a couple key questions you should ask yourself: Are the symptoms new? Have you been potentially exposed to COVID-19?

“See if your symptoms pass or don’t," Dr. Reddy said. “And if they’re not passing and progressing, then it’s time to reach out to your primary care provider.”

If there is blood in your stool or you are vomiting for 24 hours, Reddy said to contact your doctor and seek medical help.

Dr. Reddy also stresses that you keep up your regular medical care. That means yearly checkups and following up on non-COVID-9 related medical issues.

“Other things can still happen that are not COVID-19 and it’s not to alarm anybody, but just to encourage people that our outpatient offices are open and we’re here to serve our community and definitely just want to prevent people from needing to be in the hospital, if we can help people from getting to that point,” she said.