COVID-19-associated diarrhea

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Main article: COVID-19

For COVID-19 frequently asked inpatient questions, click here

For COVID-19 frequently asked outpatient questions, click here

Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Ifrah Fatima, M.B.B.S[2]

Synonyms and keywords:


SARS-CoV-2 mainly causes severe acute respiratory syndrome but may also present with gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea. It invades through the Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and the serine protease TMPRSS2 receptors present abundantly not only in the lungs but also in the enterocytes of the small intestine. A greater prevalence of diarrhea was observed in patients with severe COVID-19 when compared to non-severe disease. Likewise, patients with gastrointestinal symptoms were more likely to have a severe respiratory disease with ARDS requiring ventilatory support. The presence of the virus in the stool raises suspicion for fecal-oral transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used while handling sources of contamination like feces.

Historical Perspective


There is no established system for the classification of diarrhea in COVID-19.



Diarrhea in a patient hospitalized due to COVID-19 may be due to:

Differentiating COVID-19 associated diarrhea from other Diseases

COVID-19 diarrhea must be differentiated from other diseases that cause diarrhea, such as:[8]

To review the differential diagnosis of diarrhea due to various organisms, click here.

To review the differential diagnosis of diarrhea, click here.

Epidemiology and Demographics

  • Diarrhea is an uncommon gastrointestinal symptom (anorexia, nausea, and vomiting are more common) in patients with COVID-19 but may be the presenting symptom in a few patients.
  • The frequency of occurrence of diarrhea varies between 1%-35%. [9]
  • It varies widely between different studies, likely due to the different criteria used to define diarrhea.
  • Greater prevalence of diarrhea was noted in patients with severe COVID-19 when compared to non-severe disease.
  • Likewise, patients with gastrointenstinal symptoms were more likely to have severe respiratory disease with ARDS requiring ventilatory support. [10] [11]
  • There is no data on predilection based on age, gender, geographical location, or race.

Risk Factors

Common risk factors in the development of gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with COVID-19 infection include:


  • There is insufficient evidence to recommend routine screening in detecting covid associated diarrhea.

Natural History, Complications, and Prognosis

  • Presence of diarrheal symptoms in covid-19 infection is associated with severe form of disease.
  • Severe or poor prognostic form of disease can be described as ARDS requiring ventilatory support.[10][11]


Diagnostic Study of Choice

  • COVID-19 diarrhea can be diagnosed based on the history of diarrhea and a positive stool test for SARS-CoV-2
  • There are no established criteria for the diagnosis of diarrhea in COVID-19.

History and Symptoms

  • Diarrhea can be defined as passing of >3 loose stools per day.[10]
  • Diarrhea was the primary symptom at the onset of COVID-19 infection at onset and the symptoms lasted for approximately 4 days.
  • The duration of diarrhea ranged from 2-4 days with 3-8 bowel movements per day, according to various studies. [13][14]
  • There is not enough data from other studies on the number of evacuations, consistency of stool, and duration of symptoms.

Physical Examination

  • Patients with diarrhea due to COVID-19 usually appear very sick, since diarrhea is seen in a greater percentage of patients with severe respiratory disease than non-severe disease. [11]

Laboratory Findings

Laboratory findings consistent with the diagnosis of covid-19 associated diarrhea include complete blood count, glucose levels, white blood cells (WBC) detection, urine analysis, calcium levels, Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, complete metabolic panel and stool examination.


  • An ECG may be helpful in the diagnosis of COVID-19 associated diarrhea. Findings on an ECG suggestive of diarrhea include sinus tachycardia.


Echocardiography or Ultrasound

CT scan

  • Abdominal CT scan may be helpful in the diagnosis of COVID-19 associated diarrhea.
  • Findings on CT scan suggestive of diarrhea associated with COVID-19 infection include peri-intestinal inflammatory reaction.[16]


  • There are no MRI findings associated with diarrhea in COVID-19

Other Imaging Findings

  • There are no other imaging findings associated with diarrhea in COVID-19.

Other Diagnostic Studies

Other diagnostic studies for COVID-19 associated diarrhea include:

  • Infectious virions released from the GI tract can be monitored by real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR)
  • A study by Xiao et al assessed the clinical significance of measuring SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the feces. [17]
  • The fecal test remained positive until 12 days after the disease onset in patients with diarrhea.
  • Notably, stool test for viral RNA remained positive despite negative respiratory tests. This suggests the possibility of gastrointestinal transmission via the fecal-oral route despite clearance from the respiratory tract.
  • It was recommended transmission-based precautions for hospitalized COVID-19 patients should be continued till the rRT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2 turns negative.


Medical Therapy

Primary Prevention

  • Effective measures for the primary prevention of COVID-19 include::[18]
    • Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a alcohol based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
    • Staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who do not live with you
    • Covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others and covering sneezes and coughs
    • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • There have been rigorous efforts in order to develop a vaccine for novel coronavirus and several vaccines are in the later phases of trials.[19]

Prevention of transmission through gastrointenstinal tract

  • Presence of the virus in the stool raises suspicion for fecal-oral transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used while handling sources of contamination like feces.
  • Elective appointments and endoscopies should be rescheduled and extreme care must be taken by health care professionals of the endoscopy units to avoid spreading the virus from one patient to another. [20]
  • Patients listed for fecal microbiota transplantation and donors should be screened for the SARS-CoV-2.

Secondary prevention


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  2. Lu, Jian; Cui, Jie; Qian, Zhaohui; Wang, Yirong; Zhang, Hong; Duan, Yuange; Wu, Xinkai; Yao, Xinmin; Song, Yuhe; Li, Xiang; Wu, Changcheng; Tang, Xiaolu (2020). "On the origin and continuing evolution of SARS-CoV-2". National Science Review. doi:10.1093/nsr/nwaa036. ISSN 2095-5138.
  3. Huang, Chaolin; Wang, Yeming; Li, Xingwang; Ren, Lili; Zhao, Jianping; Hu, Yi; Zhang, Li; Fan, Guohui; Xu, Jiuyang; Gu, Xiaoying; Cheng, Zhenshun; Yu, Ting; Xia, Jiaan; Wei, Yuan; Wu, Wenjuan; Xie, Xuelei; Yin, Wen; Li, Hui; Liu, Min; Xiao, Yan; Gao, Hong; Guo, Li; Xie, Jungang; Wang, Guangfa; Jiang, Rongmeng; Gao, Zhancheng; Jin, Qi; Wang, Jianwei; Cao, Bin (2020). "Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China". The Lancet. 395 (10223): 497–506. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30183-5. ISSN 0140-6736.
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  5. 5.0 5.1 D'Amico F, Baumgart DC, Danese S, Peyrin-Biroulet L (2020). "Diarrhea During COVID-19 Infection: Pathogenesis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Management". Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2020.04.001. PMC 7141637 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32278065 Check |pmid= value (help).
  6. Liang W, Feng Z, Rao S, Xiao C, Xue X, Lin Z; et al. (2020). "Diarrhoea may be underestimated: a missing link in 2019 novel coronavirus". Gut. 69 (6): 1141–1143. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2020-320832. PMID 32102928 Check |pmid= value (help).
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gao QY, Chen YX, Fang JY (2020). "2019 Novel coronavirus infection and gastrointestinal tract". J Dig Dis. 21 (3): 125–126. doi:10.1111/1751-2980.12851. PMC 7162053 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32096611 Check |pmid= value (help).
  8. Occhipinti V, Pastorelli L (2020). "Challenges in the Care of IBD Patients During the CoViD-19 Pandemic: Report From a "Red Zone" Area in Northern Italy". Inflamm Bowel Dis. 26 (6): 793–796. doi:10.1093/ibd/izaa084. PMC 7188155 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32314792 Check |pmid= value (help).
  9. Li XY, Dai WJ, Wu SN, Yang XZ, Wang HG (2020). "The occurrence of diarrhea in COVID-19 patients". Clin Res Hepatol Gastroenterol. doi:10.1016/j.clinre.2020.03.017. PMC 7270575 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32253163 Check |pmid= value (help).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Jin X, Lian JS, Hu JH, Gao J, Zheng L, Zhang YM; et al. (2020). "Epidemiological, clinical and virological characteristics of 74 cases of coronavirus-infected disease 2019 (COVID-19) with gastrointestinal symptoms". Gut. 69 (6): 1002–1009. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2020-320926. PMC 7133387 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32213556 Check |pmid= value (help).
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Guan WJ, Ni ZY, Hu Y, Liang WH, Ou CQ, He JX; et al. (2020). "Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China". N Engl J Med. 382 (18): 1708–1720. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2002032. PMC 7092819 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32109013 Check |pmid= value (help).
  12. Brenner EJ, Ungaro RC, Gearry RB, Kaplan GG, Kissous-Hunt M, Lewis JD; et al. (2020). "Corticosteroids, but not TNF Antagonists, are Associated with Adverse COVID-19 Outcomes in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Results from an International Registry". Gastroenterology. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2020.05.032. PMC 7233252 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 32425234 Check |pmid= value (help).
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