While it isn’t a hallmark symptom, stomach pain occurs in about 1 in 5 people with COVID-19. It might even appear before other, more common symptoms or instead of them.

The most common COVID-19 symptoms are respiratory, like cough, congestion, and breathing issues. But some people report abdominal pain. Because it’s not a common symptom, abdominal pain can sometimes make diagnosing COVID-19 difficult.

Keep reading to learn more about stomach pain as a symptom of COVID-19 and how you can treat it.

In case reports about COVID-19-related stomach pain, the symptoms are not usually different from a stomach virus or infection. The symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain.

The pain could be cramping, as diarrhea is a common symptom. However, a 2020 case report described the stomach pain as “non-specific.”

And while fever is a common symptom of COVID-19, people with stomach pain often do not have a fever.

In a 2022 study of more than 1,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, about 19.5% reported abdominal pain. Another 16.2% had abdominal pain upon touching their abdomen. Of these people, 42.7% reported pain in the top part of their stomach, with 25.5% experiencing pain in the right upper part.

If pain was in the right upper part of the stomach, COVID-19 symptoms were usually more severe. Pain in this area could be related to liver inflammation, which can have more serious effects.

Digestive symptoms of COVID-19

While COVID-19 doesn’t usually cause digestive or gastrointestinal symptoms, these symptoms may include:

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Researchers don’t know exactly why some people with COVID-19 have stomach pain while others do not. They do know that SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — binds to an enzyme in the body called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. This enzyme is present in several abdominal organs, which could cause symptoms when you have COVID-19.

Researchers have found genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 in stool specimens. This could indicate that the virus lives in the gastrointestinal tract.

Research from 2022 suggests that people with liver inflammation as a result of COVID-19 can also experience abdominal pain. Abdominal pain related to the liver typically occurs in the upper right portion of the abdomen instead of in the upper middle portion.

Research from early in the pandemic identified cases of COVID-19 where stomach pain appeared before any respiratory symptoms. Some people go on to never experience respiratory symptoms.

Still, you’re more likely to also experience symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Early research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that up to 96% of people who are symptomatic experience one of those three symptoms.

Are some SARS-CoV-2 variants more likely to cause stomach pain?

SARS-CoV-2 has mutated over time, resulting in different variants. Each variant may cause different symptoms.

A 2022 study of 1.5 million adults did not find any significant differences regarding abdominal pain among the following SARS-CoV-2 variants:

  • Alpha
  • Delta
  • Omicron BA.1
  • Omicron BA.2

Still, it’s possible future SARS-CoV-2 variants could be more likely to cause stomach pain.

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Most COVID-19 stomach pain is self-limiting, which means it goes away without prescription medications. But there are treatments you can try at home that may help you feel better:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking water or an electrolyte-replacing beverage. If it’s tough to keep fluids down, you can try taking small sips or eating ice chips or popsicles.
  • Eat foods less likely to upset your stomach, such as bananas, rice, applesauce, or plain toast.
  • Get plenty of rest.

But if you start to experience bloody diarrhea, see a doctor.

Is stomach pain a symptom of long COVID?

Long COVID is when you experience new or long lasting symptoms after having COVID-19. There is still a lot to know about stomach pain and long COVID.

Research from 2022 estimates that stomach symptoms occur in 3% to 79% of people with long COVID. While people do report symptoms like pain, acid reflux, bloating, and vomiting after having COVID-19, it’s tough to know how often these occur.

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Although it’s not one of the hallmark symptoms, abdominal pain can be a result of COVID-19. The location of the pain may determine if the cause is related to the stomach or liver.

Most stomach pain-related COVID-19 symptoms should go away with time. Treatments to prevent dehydration and promote rest can help until you feel better.