Some people with COVID-19 develop diarrhea that is soft and yellowish or greenish in color. It may also occur with other symptoms, such as nausea.
While you may know coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) for the respiratory symptoms it causes, you may not know that you can also experience digestive symptoms. An estimated 9 percent of people who develop COVID-19 may even have diarrhea as a first symptom. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, can cause inflammation in your digestive tract, which can lead to loose, watery stool, or poop.
Keep reading to learn more about diarrhea and COVID-19 and how you can treat an upset stomach if it affects you.
If you’ve developed COVID-19, you may have diarrhea alone as a symptom. But most people who developed COVID-19 and diarrhea reported they first had symptoms that included a fever and cough. Those who have developed COVID-19 with symptoms that include diarrhea
An estimated 64 percent of people who have developed COVID-19 and digestive symptoms had watery stool. But some people reported “mushy” or soft stool. You experience this symptom because your stool doesn’t travel at an expected rate to become more solid.
Your watery stool can indicate you’re losing quite a bit of your body’s water via your stool. This can lead to dehydration. That’s why it’s important you make an effort to stay hydrated when you have diarrhea.
When your stool moves at a normal pace, your intestine is able to absorb the fats in it. But when your stool goes too fast, the fats remain. The presence of fat gives your stool a yellow color.
COVID-19 diarrhea can cause green stool by the way it causes yellow stool (lack of fat breakdown). When fats don’t break down properly, the bile present in your stool can cause diarrhea to appear green. Bile is a substance your gallbladder and liver release to help digest fats.
Strange as it sounds, you may want to consider not taking antidiarrhea medications too soon. Medications such as loperamide and diphenoxylate-atropine work by causing digested food to
But these medications can also slow the exit of SARS-CoV-2. You could essentially be keeping the virus in your body and making yourself sick longer.
Because COVID-19 is still fairly new in terms of research, there aren’t specific recommendations for treating diarrhea caused by the virus. Instead, the focus is on other common treatments for diarrhea.
- increasing fluid intake to stay hydrated, using:
- low-carbohydrate sports drinks
- eating bland foods, such as saltine crackers, toast, and applesauce
- getting plenty of rest
- taking antinausea medications, such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) or the prescription medication ondansetron (Zofran).
If you experience significant dehydration, you may require intravenous (IV) fluids to help you stay hydrated.
Another thing to consider is that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted via fecal-oral routes. While it’s unpleasant to think about, failure to practice good hygiene methods could mean you transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others via your stool.
To keep up good hygiene and prevent transmission, take the following steps:
- Cover the toilet and flush it after each use.
- Don’t place any used toilet paper in the trash.
- Disinfect your toilet regularly, as it’s a high-traffic area.
The following are some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and diarrhea.
How long does diarrhea usually last when you have developed COVID-19?
In a study of 90 people who had developed COVID-19 and diarrhea, the people reported that their symptoms lasted an average of 5 days.
Is COVID-19 diarrhea different from regular diarrhea?
COVID-19 diarrhea can be different from regular diarrhea in terms of its cause. “Regular” diarrhea may result from exposure to bacteria such as Escherichia coli or viruses such as norovirus. But there are no distinctive symptoms of COVID-19 diarrhea that are different from regular diarrhea.
You may notice that you have respiratory symptoms in addition to your diarrhea that could indicate you’ve developed COVID-19. Some of the COVID-19 symptoms include:
- loss of taste or smell
- shortness of breath
What are other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of COVID-19?
In addition to diarrhea, people who had developed COVID-19 also experienced the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms:
- poor appetite
- abdomen pain
Sometimes, medications used for COVID-19 treatment, such as the antivirals baricitinib (Olumiant) or remdesivir (Veklury), can cause you to have an upset stomach as a side effect.
When to see a doctor
Sometimes, diarrhea requires more than at-home remedies. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor or healthcare professional:
- black, tarry stool
- diarrhea that lasts more than 2 days
- mental status changes
- severe abdomen pain
- symptoms of severe dehydration, such as poor urine output, dry skin, and sunken eyes
- stool with blood
Researchers estimate more than 20 percent of people who develop COVID-19 experience GI symptoms. If you do, it’s important to stay hydrated and keep up good hygiene to keep yourself and others healthy.
Be aware that diarrhea could mean your case of COVID-19 may be more severe. Get medical attention for your digestive and respiratory symptoms if you become significantly ill or dehydrated.