Gastrointestinal and Hepatic Manifestations of COVID-19: Evolving Recognition and Need for Increased Understanding in Vulnerable Populations

Link to article at PubMed

J Natl Med Assoc. 2020 Aug 15:S0027-9684(20)30161-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jnma.2020.07.017. Online ahead of print.


The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has caused a global pandemic with high morbidity and mortality. It was first observed to cause a severe acute respiratory syndrome. However, gastrointestinal and hepatic manifestations have been increasingly recognized. Gastrointestinal symptoms include diarrhea, epigastric pain, nausea, and vomiting. Diarrhea is the most common GI manifestation of SARS-CoV-2 and can present without or without respiratory symptoms. Patients with GI symptoms have been associated with longer duration of illness and may be associated with more severe illness. Mechanism of diarrhea is thought to be related to direct viral cytotoxicity occurring when the SARS-CoV-3 enters GI cells via the ACE-2 receptor. Inflammatory response and cytokine release likely contributes to symptoms. SARS-CoV-2 can cause hepatic injury. Studies have shown mild to moderate elevation of liver enzymes. The pattern of liver abnormalities can be hepatocellular, cholestatic or mixed. Patients with severe infection have significantly higher rates of liver injury and worse outcomes. Proposed mechanisms for injury include immune mediated systemic inflammatory response, direct cytotoxicity from viral replication and hypoxia-reperfusion dysfunction. Recent data suggests that GI and hepatic injury may be under-recognized manifestation of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Patients with diarrhea and liver disease may have a worse prognosis. The rapidly evolving literature continues to reveal a growing body of information which enables updated guidance for management. More investigation is needed which focuses on vulnerable patients, including the elderly, those with underlying illness, as well as, racial and ethnic minorities.

PMID:32807512 | DOI:10.1016/j.jnma.2020.07.017

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