BMC Medicine: COVID-19 may increase risk of ulcers, reflux disease, study finds

February 20, 2024  12:18

Researchers from Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, have found that even a mild form of COVID-19 can increase the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcer, gastrointestinal dysfunction, pancreatic, liver, and gall bladder diseases within a year of infection.

The results of the respective study were published in BMC (BioMed Central) Medicine.

The study used the data of people aged 37 to 73 from the UK Biobank, where human biological samples are stored. A total of 112,311 subjects had prior exposure to COVID-19, 359,671 others had not contracted COVID-19—these participants formed the control group, and 370,979 participants had caught the disease during the study period.

After assessing the health status of the participants, the researchers found that COVID-19 was associated with 41 odds of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), 23 odds of peptic ulcer, 38 odds of gastrointestinal dysfunction, 36 and 35 odds of pancreatic and liver disease, respectively, with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease—27 percent, and with gall bladder diseases—21 percent.

It was noted that the risk of gastrointestinal tract dysfunction and GERD remained high one year after infection, and the probability of gall bladder diseases remained high after half a year. In addition, the connection with diseases of the digestive organs was maintained even in cases when the test subjects were ill with a mild form of COVID-19.

Now, researchers cannot explain how SARS-CoV-2 can increase the likelihood of diseases of the digestive tract. One of the possible mechanisms can be the transmission of the virus through feces and mouth, which leads to infection of the digestive organs. There is also an opinion that in the acute phase of the infection, irritable bowel syndrome may occur, which in turn is associated with long-term disorders of the digestive tract.

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