COVID-19 Symptom: Diarrhea
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID-19 can cause digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea
- Rest and drink plenty of fluids if you have diarrhea to avoid dehydration
- Bathroom surfaces may be contaminated with COVID-19, so it’s crucial always to wash your hands thoroughly
- In some cases, diarrhea can persist as the gut imbalance remains
Diarrhea is a common sign of COVID-19 and is often one of the first notable symptoms of the coronavirus.It may go together with other digestive symptoms or common signs such as a fever, cough, or sore throat. Although mild cases of COVID-19 and diarrhea don’t require treatment, there are some ways of relieving your symptoms.
How can you get diarrhea from COVID-19?
COVID and diarrhea often go hand in hand. The reason that many people get diarrhea when they’re infected with COVID is that the coronavirus binds easily to ACE2 receptors. These receptors can be found in various organs, but especially in the small intestine. Once COVID binds to these receptors, it can cause a change in the composition and diversity of the gut bacteria through a series of chemical processes. This way, the coronavirus can cause inflammation of the small intestine and diarrhea. 1
COVID gets transmitted from an infected person to others through droplets and aerosol particles containing the virus. These droplets can spread through sneezing, coughing, breathing, or talking. Studies suggest that the coronavirus is also present in feces, which is how it may contaminate bathroom surfaces and facilitate fecal-oral transmission. 2
Is diarrhea a symptom of COVID-19?
Although COVID-19 is chiefly known for the respiratory symptoms it causes, it can also be responsible for digestive symptoms. Studies suggest that diarrhea may be one of the first symptoms you experience when infected with the SARS-CoV- 2. Some of the possible digestive symptoms are: 3 4 5
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
COVID diarrhea is often watery and mushy and can be yellow or green. Fever, cramps, and abdominal pain often accompany it. 6
Diarrhea and COVID-19 – How long does it last?
Diarrhea associated with COVID often presents itself early on and, according to studies, generally lasts for a couple of days, although it can last up to a week. Diarrhea may occur in both mild and severe cases of COVID. In some cases, the diarrhea may persist for months after the infection is gone as the gut imbalance and the virus remains present in the feces. Because of this, diarrhea is also one of the possible symptoms of long-COVID. 1 7 8 9
Vomiting and diarrhea: COVID-19 or a stomach bug?
It can be challenging to distinguish between COVID-19 and a stomach bug based solely on gastrointestinal symptoms. Both COVID-19 and stomach bugs can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
However, some key differences can help differentiate the two.
- Symptoms. COVID-19 is often accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, cough, and fatigue, while a stomach bug typically only causes gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Stomach bug typically only causes gastrointestinal symptoms
If you suspect you have COVID-19 or a stomach bug, take precautions to prevent the spread of the illness. If you have COVID, isolate yourself from others to avoid further virus transmission. If you have a stomach bug, practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly, this should be a preventive measure for COVID. If you are unsure whether you have COVID-19 or a stomach bug, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What to do if you have COVID-19 diarrhea?
For most people without underlying health issues, diarrhea related to COVID doesn’t require treatment, and the symptoms clear on their own. However, there are some home common remedies for diarrhea that you can take to alleviate discomfort: 10
- Increase fluid intake. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids, such as water, clear broths, or an electrolyte solution like Pedialyte.
- Avoid certain foods. Avoid high-fat, spicy, greasy, fried foods, caffeine, alcohol, and dairy products, as they can exacerbate diarrhea. 11
- Take over-the-counter medication. Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications, such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), can help control diarrhea.
- Use probiotics. Probiotics may help restore the balance of good bacteria in your gut and alleviate diarrhea.
Most cases of diarrhea can be managed at home. However, there are some situations where you may want to seek medical attention at a hospital or urgent care center:
- Signs of dehydration
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Dark urine
- Severe or persistent diarrhea
- Blood in your stool
In general, if you're unsure whether you should seek medical attention for your diarrhea, it's always best to err on the side of caution and contact your doctor for guidance. 12
Diarrhea caused by COVID-19 is often one of the first symptoms of COVID, and will usually go away on its own. If needed, you can control your symptoms at home by drinking plenty of water, resting, and taking over-the-counter medications when necessary. If your diarrhea from COVID is severe and persists for more than 2 days, you should consult your doctor.
Q: What can I do to improve diarrhea with COVID?
A: You can drink plenty of water, rest, and monitor your symptoms. If your diarrhea isn’t improving after a few days, you can ask your doctor whether you should take medication to relieve your diarrhea.
Q: Can COVID be passed on in public toilets?
A: Public toilets may be contaminated with the coronavirus. Wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap after visiting a public bathroom.
Q: Can I have sulfur burps and diarrhea from COVID?
A: Digestive problems such as diarrhea and sulfur burps may be caused by the coronavirus. If you think you may have been infected, you should take a COVID test and stay away from others.
Q: What can I do if my child is vomiting and has diarrhea because of COVID?
A: You can make sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids and that they rest. You should follow local government guidelines and contact your doctor if symptoms worsen.
Q: How can you treat COVID diarrhea at home?
In addition to getting rest and making sure you stay hydrated, your diarrhea can be controlled with over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications and probiotics to improve gut health.
Q: Why does COVID cause diarrhea?
A: The COVID virus often enters the body through the nose or mouth and travels to the stomach. Once in the digestive tract, it can infect the linings of the intestines and cause inflammation. The virus can also cause a change in the composition and diversity of the gut bacteria
Q: If I have severe COVID diarrhea, when should I go to the hospital?
You may need to go to the hospital if you have symptoms of severe dehydration, such as dizziness, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, or dark urine, if you have blood in your stools, or if your diarrhea is severe for more than 2-3 days.
Q: Which COVID variant causes diarrhea?
Studies have shown that diarrhea can occur in people infected with any variant of the COVID virus, including the original strain, as well as the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron variants that have been identified.
Q: When does COVID diarrhea go away?
Diarrhea associated with COVID-19 typically occurs in the early stages of the disease and usually persists for a few days, based on research. However, it may continue for up to a week in some cases.
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Megyeri K. et al. (2021). COVID-19-associated diarrhea. Accessed on 18 August 2022.
Cheung K. et al. (2020). Gastrointestinal manifestations of SARS-CoV-2 infection and virus load in fecal samples from a Hong Kong Cohort: systematic review and meta-analysis. Accessed on 18 August 2022.
Han C. et al. (2020). Digestive symptoms in COVID-19 patients with mild disease severity: clinical presentation, stool viral RNA testing, and outcomes. Accessed on 18 August 2022.
Ghimire S. et al. (2021). Diarrhea is associated with increased severity of disease in COVID-19: systemic review and metaanalysis. Accessed on 18 August 2022.
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Singh S. et al. (2022). Presence of diarrhea associated with better outcomes in patients with COVID-19 – A prospective evaluation. Accessed on 18 August 2022.
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Harvard Health Publishing (2022) [“Is something in your diet causing diarrhea?”]. Accessed on April 25 2023.
Kow C. et al. (2021). The use of antimotility drugs in COVID-19 associated diarrhea. Accessed on 18 August 2022.