Gastrointestinal involvement in COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Authors Theodore Rokkas.


Background Patients with COVID-19 usually manifest fever and respiratory symptoms. However, some patients also experience gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In addition, SARS-CoV-2 RNA has been detected in feces of infected patients. Currently there is huge evolving research interest in this potentially lethal disease. We systematically reviewed and meta-analyzed the evidence suggesting involvement of the digestive system in COVID-19.

Methods PubMed, Medline and Embase databases were searched up to 10 April 2020, using suitable keywords. Individual and pooled prevalence rates with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated using the fixed- or random-effects model as appropriate. Heterogeneity between studies was calculated employing the Cochran Q test and I2 values, whereas the possibility of publication bias was examined by constructing funnel plots. Additionally, subgroup and sensitivity analyses were performed.

Results In adult COVID-19 patients, the prevalence rates (95%CI) for all GI symptoms, and separately for diarrhea, nausea/vomiting, and abdominal discomfort/pain were 9.8% (6.4-14.7), 10.4% (95%CI 7.7-13.9), 7.7% (95%CI 4.8-12.1), and 6.9% (95%CI 3.9-11.9) respectively. The prevalence rates for children were 9.6% (95%CI 6.3-14.3) for all symptoms, 9.6% (95%CI 6.3-14.3) for diarrhea, and 6.8% (95% CI 4.2-11) for nausea/vomiting. In 30.3% (95%CI 10.5-61.6) of the patients SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in feces.

Conclusions A percentage of patients with COVID-19 will manifest symptoms from the digestive system. The GI tract may be a target organ and potential transmission route of SARS-CoV-2, with important implications for disease management and transmission.

Keywords COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, GI symptoms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, stool SARS-CoV-2 RNA, systematic review, meta-analysis

Ann Gastroenterol 2020; 33 (4): 355-365

Original Articles