COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a new form of the coronavirus that was discovered in December 2019. Coronavirus is a family of viruses that causes several human diseases, including the common cold, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The majority of people who develop COVID-19 either have mild symptoms or no symptoms. Adults over age 65 and people with pre-existing medical conditions are at the highest risk of developing severe complications.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and a dry cough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 83 to 99 percent of people will develop a fever, 59 to 82 percent will develop a cough, and 44 to 70 percent will experience fatigue.

Other common flu-like symptoms associated with COVID-19 include:

Some people may develop gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, or vomiting even in the absence of other flu-like symptoms.

Some people with COVID-19 develop gastrointestinal symptoms either alone or with respiratory symptoms.

Recently, researchers at Stanford University found that a third of patients they studied with a mild case of COVID-19 had symptoms affecting the digestive system.

Another recent study published by researchers in Beijing found that anywhere from 3 to 79 percent of people with COVID-19 develop gastrointestinal symptoms.


Diarrhea commonly occurs in people with COVID-19. One study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology examined 206 patients with a mild case of COVID-19. They found 48 people had only digestive symptoms and another 69 had both digestive and respiratory symptoms.

Of the combined total of 117 people with gastric distress, 19.4 percent experienced diarrhea as their first symptom.


The research from Beijing found that vomiting is more common in children with COVID-19 than adults.

The researchers analyzed all the COVID-19 clinical studies and case reports related to digestive issues published between December 2019 and February 2020. They found that 3.6 to 15.9 percent of adults experienced vomiting, compared with 6.5 to 66.7 percent of children.

Loss of appetite

Many people who develop COVID-19 report losing their appetite, often alongside other gastrointestinal symptoms.

According to the same study from Beijing, about 39.9 to 50.2 percent of people experience a loss of appetite.

Other digestive symptoms

Several other digestive symptoms have been reported by people with COVID-19. According to the study from Beijing:

Some people may experience diarrhea without other flu-like symptoms, like a fever. Diarrhea can be the first symptom of COVID-19.

In some cases, flu symptoms may come on after diarrhea. Some people may only experience gastrointestinal symptoms without developing any of the more common symptoms.

Research suggests that the virus that causes COVID-19 can enter your digestive system through cell surface receptors for an enzyme called angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Receptors for this enzyme are 100 times more common in the gastrointestinal tract than the respiratory tract.

People with some gastrointestinal disorders, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are at an increased risk of developing some types of viral infections.

However, research hasn’t yet found that people with IBD are more likely to develop COVID-19 than people without IBD.

New information about COVID-19 is emerging rapidly. As researchers collect more data, it’s possible that research will find that having IBD does increase your risk for developing COVID-19.

According to researchers at an IBD center in Milan, people with IBD should take extra precautions to avoid the virus. These include:

  • frequent handwashing
  • covering your face when coughing and sneezing
  • avoiding people with flu-like symptoms
  • staying at home when possible

Some of the medications used to treat IBD may suppress your immune system. The International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease has released a list of recommendations related to COVID-19 and how to manage IBD. However, even among experts, there are varying opinions about some of the guidelines.

If you have IBD and have tested positive for COVID-19, speak to your doctor about whether you should stop taking certain medications.

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, or nausea can have many causes other than COVID-19. Experiencing any of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have COVID-19, but they may be early warning signs.

You can treat the digestive symptoms of COVID-19 at home by staying hydrated, avoiding foods that upset your stomach, and getting as much rest as possible.

If your symptoms are mild, stay home and minimize contact with other people. More than 80 percent of people with COVID-19 will develop mild symptoms.

If you want to get in touch with a doctor, many clinics offer phone or video appointments to reduce the spread of the virus. It’s a good idea to avoid going to the hospital. Even if you have mild symptoms, you can still transmit the disease to other people, including healthcare workers.

Medical Emergency

If you develop more serious symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. According to the CDC, the following are emergency symptoms:

People with COVID-19 may experience gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, or loss of appetite. These symptoms might occur alone or with other flu-like symptoms such as fever and coughing.

If you think you have COVID-19, try to isolate yourself to avoid transmitting the virus to other people. If you develop serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention.