Health/Sci-TechLifestyleVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 9

COVID linked to long-term risk of digestive diseases: study

The risk of serious digestive conditions lasts for months after an active infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a new study. The findings add conditions like gastrointestinal dysfunction and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, to the long list of new health risks that a person is more likely to have after COVID.

Even mild infections were linked to higher risks of digestive disorders. The study showed that the risk of conditions like peptic ulcers, liver disease, gallbladder disease, and pancreatic disease were all higher for up to 6 months after infection. GERD and GI dysfunction risk was heightened for at least a year. People who had COVID more than once were more than twice as likely to get pancreatic disease, compared to people who never had COVID. The findings were published in the journal BMC Medicine.

The researchers noted that during an active COVID infection, about 10% of people report digestive symptoms. This latest study sought to understand how often people were diagnosed with digestive disorders more than a month after being infected. Having lingering or new symptoms after a COVID infection is known as long COVID, which includes a wide range of problems that about 14% of people say they’ve had on an ongoing basis.

For the study, researchers looked at the chances of getting any of eight digestive conditions among 112,000 people more than 30 days after the start of a COVID infection. Data was included for infections from the start of the pandemic through October 2022. The team compared the rates of post-COVID digestive issues to the rates among more than 350,000 people who hadn’t had COVID during that period. The researchers also compared the disease rates to how likely a third group of people were to have them before the pandemic. All of the people included in the study lived in the United Kingdom.

Specifically, the researchers found the increased risk after COVID was 41% for GERD, 38% for GI dysfunction, 36% for pancreatic disease, 35% for severe liver disease, 23% for peptic ulcers, and 21% for gallbladder disease.

The researchers noted that it’s not fully understood how COVID leads to digestive diseases.