The Overlooked COVID Symptoms You Should Know About

An onset of fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, and dry cough are clear indicators that you might have COVID-19. As such, you might feel compelled to take a COVID test, and you’re likely right to do so. These are well-known signs of the virus. However, as we’ve seen with variants like Omicron and the recent FLiRT variants, COVID symptoms can be diverse. With summer COVID cases rising in many U.S. states, doctors are pointing out other, often overlooked symptoms, particularly those affecting the gastrointestinal system.

Since COVID first appeared in December 2019, it has been primarily associated with respiratory issues affecting the lungs, throat, nose, and mouth. This explains why the loss of taste and smell has become a recognized symptom. However, health experts note that COVID-related symptoms can extend far beyond the respiratory system.

It appears that stomach pain and nausea, symptoms typically linked to illnesses like the flu, can also be signs of COVID. Peter Chin-Hong, MD, an infectious disease specialist, told The Seattle Times that COVID might manifest as food poisoning in some patients. This highlights the virus’s potential to affect various body systems, not just the lungs.

To put it plainly, COVID acts “like throwing a bomb in your body,” said Ken Cadwell, PhD, a professor of medicine who studies the virus’s effects on the gut. “You’re going to feel that in multiple different organs, not just the lungs,” he added. Gastrointestinal symptoms can appear within the first few days of exposure, sometimes even before respiratory symptoms like fever or cough. For some, the illness might never reach the lungs or throat, which is why many patients with only abdominal pain “never think of it as COVID,” according to Chin-Hong.

Beyond stomach pain and nausea, gastrointestinal symptoms can include loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. “Diarrhea caused by COVID-19 tends to be more watery, yellow, or green in color and may be accompanied by cramping and bloating,” notes the University of Nebraska Health Center. These digestive symptoms have become more common with new COVID variants than earlier symptoms like loss of taste and smell. Mayo Clinic suggests that the increasing prevalence of these symptoms might be linked to the wider use of Paxlovid, an antiviral medication prescribed to combat COVID. While Paxlovid can help reduce COVID symptoms, one of its primary side effects is diarrhea.

Although diarrhea is a particularly unpleasant symptom of COVID and Paxlovid, the good news is that it can often be managed at home. “Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and watch for symptoms of dehydration such as thirst, dizziness, dark-colored urine, and dry mouth. A bland diet, like plain toast, rice, and bananas, might be easier on your stomach. If your diarrhea doesn’t clear up after finishing Paxlovid, contact your healthcare provider,” advises GoodRx.

It’s also crucial to understand that your symptoms may vary with each new wave of COVID. For example, you might have had a severe cough with Omicron but experience stomach pain with the FLiRT variants, according to Davey Smith, MD, an infectious disease specialist. This evolving symptom profile underscores the importance of staying informed and vigilant about the different ways COVID-19 can affect your health.

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