COVID-19 can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, which can be difficult to distinguish from other ailments like food poisoning or the stomach bug.
Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or even gas can develop with a wide range of conditions, infections, or even chronic disorders.
This article will focus on gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and sulfur-smelling burps, and when to suspect COVID-19 or something else as the cause.
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The symptoms and severity of food poisoning can depend on what type of food poisoning you have and how much of the affected food you consumed. Common symptoms of food poisoning include:
- an upset stomach
- stomach cramping
These symptoms can develop within hours or days after you consume an affected food or drink. In most cases, you can ride out a case of food poisoning at home. It’s best to focus on drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
How to treat food poisoning and when to seek medical help
There’s not much you can do to treat mild cases of food poisoning at home. Try doing things that improve your symptoms, such as eating bland foods if you can tolerate them, and drinking plenty of water.
If you develop any of the following symptoms, this is a sign of a more serious form of food poisoning and you should contact a doctor or other healthcare professional:
- diarrhea with a fever above 102°F (38.8°C)
- diarrhea that lasts for three or more days with no improvement
- diarrhea that contains blood
- vomiting that prevents you from keeping any food or fluids down
- decreased urination
The stomach flu is a collection of symptoms rather than an actual diagnosis in most cases. The stomach flu is not actually a type of influenza at all. It’s a generic name given to gastroenteritis, which is inflammation that occurs in the stomach or intestines for a variety of reasons.
Bacteria, parasites, and even some chemicals can cause gastroenteritis, but viruses are one of the most common culprits. The onset of gastroenteritis symptoms can depend on the cause and even the type of virus.
- Norovirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis. Symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure and can last up to 3 days.
- Rotavirus infections begin about 2 days after exposure and symptoms usually last between 3 and 8 days. There is a vaccine to prevent rotavirus infection.
- Adenovirus symptoms start between 3 and 10 days after exposure to the virus and can last for up to 2 weeks.
- Astrovirus symptoms begin 4 or 5 days after exposure to the virus and can last for up to 4 days.
Other viruses can also cause gastroenteritis, including coronaviruses, but these are less common.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis usually include things like:
- watery diarrhea
- stomach cramping
- possible fever
How to treat stomach bugs and when to seek medical help
You can treat most stomach bugs at home. You may never know or need to know what type of virus or bacteria caused your infection. Try to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and eat small amounts of bland foods as tolerated.
That said, if you develop any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical treatment:
- a change in your mental state
- diarrhea that lasts more than 2 days
- frequent vomiting that leads to dehydration
- six or more loose stools in 1 day
- severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
- stools that are black, tarry, or bloody or that contain pus
- a high fever
- changes in your urination
- other signs of dehydration
Depending on the cause of your infection, a doctor may prescribe intravenous fluids, antibiotics, or antiviral medications.
There are many causes of stomach infections. The coronavirus is just one type of virus that can cause viral gastroenteritis.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses, and there are several forms, including the one that causes COVID-19 infections. There are also several variations and mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19, and some types affect your gastrointestinal system in different ways.
Some of the more common gastrointestinal symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection may be overlooked before other symptoms like fever and respiratory symptoms because they’re so common to a number of stomach issues.
However, about 5 to 10 percent of people who get COVID-19 end up with some form of digestive symptom.
Stomach and digestive symptoms that have been linked to COVID-19 infections include:
Diarrhea is the most common gastrointestinal symptom associated with COVID-19 infections. There’s debate as to whether or not the appearance of digestive problems signals more or less severe cases of infection.
How to treat COVID-19 stomach symptoms and when to seek medical help
If you think your upset stomach, diarrhea, or other symptoms are linked to COVID-19, take an at-home COVID-19 test or call a healthcare professional for testing. Gastrointestinal symptoms may also appear long after an initial COVID-19 infection as part of long-haul COVID-19.
Treatment of gastrointestinal symptoms associated with COVID-19 is similar to other forms of upset stomach. Rest and hydration are key, but more severe symptoms may require medical care.
Researchers are still trying to determine the best way to manage gastrointestinal symptoms related to long-haul COVID-19.
What causes sulfur burps and what’s the best way to get rid of them?
Sulfur burps is the name given to burps that have a very particular smell, like that of rotten eggs. Burps can happen any time but may occur more when you are having other gastrointestinal problems.
In most cases, the types of food you’re eating and how you’re eating them can cause sulfur burps. Avoiding foods that create a lot of gas and taking time to eat more slowly can help reduce sulfur burps.
What’s the fastest way to cure diarrhea?
There’s really no cure for diarrhea, and managing this symptom usually depends on the cause. If you have a chronic condition that causes diarrhea, treatment is more complex.
In most cases of diarrhea caused by certain types of foods or simple stomach bugs, there are over-the-counter medications that can help you manage your bowels.
However, the biggest concern is to avoid dehydration caused by diarrhea by drinking fluids. Most cases of diarrhea resolve in about 2 days.
Are sulfur burps and diarrhea a sign of pancreatic cancer?
Sulfur burps and diarrhea can appear with many types of stomach problems, including pancreatic cancer. Your pancreas makes chemicals called enzymes that help you digest food. When you have cancer, the production of these enzymes can be affected.
Any changes in digestion can lead to problems like diarrhea and increased gas production. Talk with a doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms repeatedly or for long periods of time.
Can long-haul COVID-19 affect the gastrointestinal system?
Long-haul COVID-19 and the symptoms associated with this chronic, post-infection condition are still being researched. But there are a number of symptoms that have been linked to the severe inflammation COVID-19 causes throughout the body.
If you experience gastrointestinal symptoms after a COVID-19 infection, talk with a doctor about treatment strategies and ways to reduce inflammation in your digestive tract.
Stomach problems like smelly burps, nausea, and diarrhea are linked to all kinds of conditions, infections, and diseases.
The key to knowing the cause of your symptoms and how to treat them is to pay attention to other symptoms or changes that occur alongside your gastrointestinal problems.
For most acute infections, the key to treating gastrointestinal symptoms is to drink plenty of water and to rest. If your symptoms get worse after a few days, talk with a doctor about other possible causes and treatments.