COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus discovered in late 2019. Most people who get COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, but some people, especially those with preexisting health conditions, become severely ill.

Constipation isn’t typically a symptom of COVID-19, but it may be in some cases. Factors like medication, dietary changes, gut bacteria changes, and physical activity changes can all contribute to its development.

Keep reading to learn when constipation may be a symptom of COVID-19 and which digestive symptoms you’re more likely to experience.

Constipation isn’t a typical symptom of COVID-19, but COVID-19 may lead to constipation for some people either directly or indirectly.

A case study published in May 2020 described a man with COVID-19 who came to the hospital with a fever, cough, nausea, constipation, and abdominal pain. A computerized tomography (CT) scan showed that he had colonic ileus, which is when the muscles of the intestines stop contracting.

A study published in June 2020 reported a number of people with COVID-19 were admitted to a hospital in Iran with various gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including constipation. Researchers have found that the gut microbiome of people with COVID-19 discharged from the hospital differs from the gut microbiome of the general population. It’s thought this change may contribute to GI symptoms.

In a February 2021 study, researchers examined the effects of a fecal microbiota transplantation on a group of 11 people with COVID-19 discharged from the hospital with GI symptoms. Three of the people had constipation.

A fecal microbiota transplantation is a procedure that involves the transfer of healthy bacteria into the intestines. All three people with constipation saw improvements in symptoms after the procedure.

Medications that lead to constipation

Some drugs used to treat COVID-19 may also lead to constipation.

In a 2021 study, researchers examined potential therapies for treating COVID-19. They listed constipation as a side effect of the drugs famotidine and bevacizumab. In a May 2020 study, researchers found that 14 percent of people treated with the antiviral drug remdesivir developed constipation.

The medications lopinavir, ribavirin, and some immunomodulatory drugs may also cause constipation in people with COVID-19.

Constipation from stress and anxiety

Increased stress and anxiety may increase constipation in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In a March 2021 study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 44 percent of a group of people with IBS and either anxiety or depression reported an increase in constipation. The increase was attributed to psychological distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and not a COVID-19 infection.

Symptoms that affect the digestive system are reported in up to 74 percent of people with COVID-19. The most common GI symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Diarrhea. Diarrhea has been reported in 2 to 50 percent of COVID-19 cases and seems to be more common in people with severe disease.
  • Vomiting. A review of studies published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeuticsfound that 3.6 to 15.9 percent of adults and 6.5 to 66.7 percent of children with COVID-19 experienced vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite. A review of 60 studies found 26.8 percent of people with COVID-19 experienced a loss of appetite.
  • Nausea. The study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics found 1 to 29.4 percent of people with COVID-19 experienced nausea.
  • Abdominal pain. The same study found 2.2 to 6 percent of people experienced abdominal pain.

Although COVID-19 doesn’t typically cause constipation, other factors related to the infection may indirectly cause it. A lack of physical activity from stay-at-home orders and quarantines can lead to what has become known as “quarantine constipation.”

When you stop being active or reduce your activity, your bowels don’t push stools through as efficiently. Increased time spent sitting may also compress your colon and contribute to constipation.

Changes in your diet, increased stress levels, and changes in hydration may also all contribute to constipation if you’ve been staying at home more often.

Exercising at home, finding ways to relieve your stress, continuing to eat a healthy diet, and staying hydrated may all help relieve your symptoms.

According to a study that analyzed the symptoms of more than 24,000 people with COVID-19, the most commonly reported symptoms were:

Other symptoms seen in more than 10 percent of people were:

Most of the time, mild COVID-19 can be treated at home with plenty of rest and hydration. It’s important to isolate yourself from other people as soon as possible for 10 days to avoid passing the virus to others.

If you aren’t having a medical emergency, consider that many clinics and doctors office allow you to communicate with a doctor by phone or online.

Medical emergency

Call 911 and let the dispatcher know your symptoms, or go to the nearest emergency room if you have the following symptoms, which the CDC lists as an emergency:

  • trouble breathing
  • persistent pain or pressure in your chest
  • new confusion
  • an inability to wake up or stay awake
  • pale, gray, or blue colored skin, lips, or nails
  • anything else unusual or concerning

Constipation isn’t a typical symptom of COVID-19, but some people with COVID-19 do experience it. Drugs used to treat COVID-19, dietary changes, COVID-19-related stress, and changes in exercise habits can all also contribute to constipation.

If you think you have COVID-19, you should isolate yourself from other people for 10 days and only visit a doctor if you have emergency symptoms. If your symptoms are mild, you can treat COVID-19 at home by resting and staying hydrated.