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A strange new coronavirus symptom has been discovered

Published May 13th, 2020 1:46PM EDT
coronavirus updates
Image: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock

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  • Doctors studying the effects of coronavirus on the human body have discovered that it can dramatically impact the bowels.
  • The virus’s ability to attack the ACE2 receptor on cells is believed to be linked to the bowel abnormalities, but additional research needs to be done in order to reach a firm conclusion.
  • The study was published in the journal Radiology.
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By now we’re all familiar with most of the symptoms of the coronavirus infection. Patients experience shortness of breath and flu-like symptoms that in some cases become severe, requiring ventilators and other serious life-saving measures.

Now, new research is revealing some of the hidden effects of the virus, including abnormalities that affect the bowels. The research, which was published in the journal Radiology, suggests doctors should monitor for such changes, and patients should be vigilant and look out for abdominal symptoms.

It makes sense that a lot of the coronavirus research up to this point has focused on the impacts of COVID-19 on a patient’s lungs and heart. It’s these organs that seem to be affected most dramatically, and symptoms are easy for a patient to describe. However, with an increasing number of patients experiencing abdominal issues after their positive diagnosis, a team of researchers decided to have a look at what is happening in the bowels of these individuals.

The study, which included data on 412 patients who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, found that of the 17% of patients who underwent abdominal imaging during the course of their treatment, nearly a third of CT scans showed bowel abnormalities.

“We found bowel abnormalities on imaging in patients with COVID-19, more commonly in sicker patients who went to the ICU,” Dr. Rajesh Bhayana of Massachusetts General Hospital said in a statement. “Some findings were typical of bowel ischemia, or dying bowel, and in those who had surgery we saw small vessel clots beside areas of dead bowel. Patients in the ICU can have bowel ischemia for other reasons, but we know COVID-19 can lead to clotting and small vessel injury, so bowel might also be affected by this.”

The research isn’t conclusive and doesn’t pinpoint the exact cause of bowel distress in COVID-19 patients, but it’s thought that the virus’s ability to attack the ACE2 receptor on tissue cells is likely a major factor.

“ACE2 expression is most abundant in lung alveolar epithelial cells, enterocytes of the small intestine, and vascular endothelium suggesting that small bowel and vasculature may be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the researchers explain.

Going forward, the researchers suggest that additional investigation should be undertaken to determine the extent of bowel damage in coronavirus patients while also assessing the likelihood that a patient will experience abdominal changes based on other risk factors.

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