Long Covid symptoms: constipation, bloating and diarrhoea among list of complaints, study finds

Scientists are still grappling with long Covid, but a new study has found more common side-effects

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People who catch Covid-19 can suffer a wealth of health problems for many months or years afterwards and now even more long-term side-effects have been linked to the virus.

Common symptoms of long Covid can include breathing issues, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and depression, and it can also make you more susceptible to bowel problems, new research suggests.

A US study conducted at Washington University found that catching Covid can lead to long-term gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation and diarrhoea. Other symptoms that stayed with Covid sufferers for up to a year after infection included chronic acid reflux, bloating and stomach pain.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was based on the medical records of more than 11.6 million people, 154,000 of whom caught Covid between March 2020 and January 2021. The records were compared with 5.6 million people who did not catch the virus in the same period, as well as the records of some 5.8 million people before the pandemic broke out.

The study found that those who caught Covid suffered from gastrointestinal symptoms a year later than those who were not infected, and the average pre-pandemic person.

Ziyad Al-Aly, epidemiologist and senior author on the study, from the Washington University School of Medicine, said it was likely that the gastrointestinal route through the digestive system appeared to be a "reservoir" for Covid-19.

He told Sky News that the virus can be “destructive, even among those considered healthy or who have had mild infections.”

Mr Al-Aly added that symptoms tended to be more common among those who were more immediately impacted by Covid, such as people admitted to hospital. But symptoms were still relatively common overall, with 36% of people infected with Covid likely to suffer from gastrointestinal issues.

Long-term gastrointestinal problems have increased among long Covid sufferers (Composite: Kim Mogg)Long-term gastrointestinal problems have increased among long Covid sufferers (Composite: Kim Mogg)
Long-term gastrointestinal problems have increased among long Covid sufferers (Composite: Kim Mogg)

Researchers said the virus made people 54% more likely to develop signs of irritable bowel syndrome and digestive symptoms such as constipation, bloating, diarrhoea, while people were 35% more likely to have acid reflux disease. They say the findings reflect the “urgent need” to accelerate efforts to prevent and treat the long-term health effects of Covid.

The latest study comes after data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier this year found almost a third of people with long Covid in the UK are likely to have been suffering from symptoms for two years or more.

Prevalence of long Covid continues to vary among age groups and occupations, with ONS figures suggesting an estimated 5.1% (around one in 20) of 50 to 69-year-olds are likely to be suffering from symptoms, compared with 4.7% of 35 to 49-year-olds, 2.9% of 25 to 34-year-olds, 2.8% of people aged 70 and over and 2.1% of 17 to 24-year-olds.

People have reported a huge range of long-term symptoms in the years since the outbreak, including headaches, respiratory problems, hair loss, anxiety, low mood and muscle aches.

Meanwhile, another study suggests long Covid symptoms should resolve within a year for most people after a mild illness. A person is considered to have long Covid if symptoms continue for more than four weeks after infection.

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