COVID-19 Symptom: Stomach Ache
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
People who contract the COVID-19 virus experience a wide range of symptoms; among them trouble breathing, cough, fever, and changes to sense of smell being the most common. However, stomach ache and other gastrointestinal symptoms are also very frequently observed in those who become infected with COVID-19. Read on to learn about the stomach issues that COVID-19 can cause, how they manifest, how they can be treated and what risks they pose.
Why does COVID-19 cause stomach pain?
Stomach pain and upset are recognized symptoms of COVID-19. These symptoms occur when the virus attacks specific groups of cells in our gastrointestinal tract, impacting organs such as the stomach or the pancreas, and disturbing the delicate balance of bacteria that live in our gut. However, stomach aches are not specific to COVID-19, and can occur when our bodies attempt to fight off various viral and bacterial infections. 1 2
It has been found that people with severe COVID-19 are almost 3x as likely to develop stomach symptoms than those who experience the virus lightly. This effect has been suggested to be caused by the ‘gut-lung axis’. According to this hypothesis, the immune system communicates between the gut and the lungs, so disease processes in these respective tissues and organs influence each other. 1 3
What does stomach pain caused by COVID-19 feel like?
While upper stomach pain certainly is one of the more common symptoms of COVID-19, there are a host of related symptoms that you may experience if you contract the virus. Other COVID-19-related stomach issues have even been found to appear before the classic respiratory symptoms of the condition in patients. These symptoms may include:
- Stomach upset
- Stomach cramps
- Loss of appetite
Diarrhea is especially common, and may be a symptom in around a third of patients who get admitted to hospital with COVID-19. 2 4
How long can COVID-19-related stomach pain be expected to last?
Similarly to the classic COVID-19 symptoms like cough, shortness of breath and fever, COVID-19 stomach symptom duration varies from person to person. You can expect your symptoms to improve once your body fights off the virus. If you happen to have had a severe form of the infection, it may take a while longer for your digestive tract to return to normal function. Healthy nutrition is important during this time to replenish your energy and allow for your gut microbiome to recover. 3
However, in certain groups of people, stomach pain and related symptoms may persist for longer. For example, if you have an underlying condition that was made worse by COVID-19, you may require input from your doctor to address it. Similarly, some people who suffer from long COVID-19 report post-infection stomach symptoms. 5
How do I know if my stomach ache is caused by COVID-19?
Because stomach issues are usually not the first group of symptoms associated with COVID-19, it is often easy to dismiss them. Alternatively, severe COVID-related stomach pain may be initially identified as a more serious condition such as appendicitis, pancreatitis or gallbladder disease. Because of this, if you are experiencing stomach issues and suspect that you may have contracted COVID-19, it is important to do a COVID-19 test. 4
Crucially, patients with severe COVID-19 who receive treatment in hospital have a higher risk of developing some of the more serious gastrointestinal complications of the virus. Some of these, such as pancreatitis or mesenteric ischemia, can be very dangerous, so monitoring your symptoms is important. 1
How is COVID-19-related stomach pain treated?
Currently, there are no treatments available that are 100% effective against COVID-19. In most people, the infection must simply run its course, although certain antiviral drugs may be beneficial in reducing its duration or severity. As the infection subsides, most people can expect associated symptoms, such as stomach pain, to ease as well. 3
In order to restore your gut microbiome following a COVID-19 infection, it is important to eat varied, nutritious foods. Probiotics may also be taken to help restore the ‘good’ microbes and bacteria that live in your gut and allow it to function healthily. 3
In some patients with especially severe COVID-19-related stomach symptoms, food may need to be delivered via an alternative route. Enteral nutrition (tube feeding) may be required for those with a very low appetite or who are unable to consume food independently. 3
COVID-19-related stomach issues are common symptoms of the virus, and sometimes the first symptoms to become apparent. Abdominal pain, nausea, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting all fall under the stomach symptom umbrella. Severe COVID-19 puts you at a higher risk of developing stomach pain, and hospitalized patients should be mindful of more serious complications. Ultimately, there is no definitive treatment for COVID-19-related stomach upset, but healthy nutrition is important to help restore gastrointestinal function after the virus subsides.
Q: Is stomach ache a symptom of COVID-19?
A: In people who contract COVID-19, stomach ache is a common symptom. An upset stomach, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting are some other commonly reported symptoms.
Q: Does COVID-19 cause stomach pain?
A: The COVID-19 virus can cause stomach pain by attacking specific kinds of cells in the intestine, and gut flora more generally. This disturbs the intestine and consequently causes pain.
Kaafarani HM. (2021). COVID-19: Gastrointestinal symptoms and complications. Accessed on 23 August 2022.
Weibiao Z., et al. (2022). Gastrointestinal symptoms are associated with severity of coronavirus disease 2019: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Accessed on 23 August 2022.
Ye Q., et al. (2020). The mechanism and treatment of gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with COVID-19. Accessed on 23 August 2022.
Zhang L., et al. (2020). COVID-19 with abdominal symptoms and acute abdominal pain: a guide to identification for general practice. Accessed on 23 August 2022.
Kane SV. (2022). COVID-19: Issues related to gastrointestinal disease in adults. Accessed on 23 August 2022.