Patients with COVID-19 who experience gastrointestinal symptoms have overall worse in-hospital complications but less cardiomyopathy and mortality, according to a new study.
About 20% of COVID-19 patients experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, which clinicians should consider when treating their hospitalized patients, wrote researchers led by Nikita Patil, MD, a hospitalist at Nash General Hospital–UNC Nash Healthcare in Rocky Mount, N.C., in Gastro Hep Advances.
“It’s important to know that certain complications are higher in people with GI symptoms,” she said in an interview. “Even without an increased risk of death, there are many problems that affect quality of life and lead to people not being able to do the things they were able to do before.”
Dr. Patil and colleagues analyzed the association of GI symptoms with adverse outcomes in 100,902 patients from the Cerner Real-World Data COVID-19 Database, which included hospital encounters and ED visits for COVID-19 between December 2019 to November 2020; the data were taken from EMRs at centers with which Cerner has a data use agreement. They also looked at factors associated with poor outcomes such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis, and ventilator requirement or oxygen dependence.
The average age of the patients was 52, and a higher proportion of patients with GI symptoms were 50 and older. Of those with GI symptoms, 54.5% were women. Overall, patients with GI symptoms were more likely to have higher Charlson Comorbidity Index scores and have comorbidities such as acute liver failure, gastroesophageal reflux disease, GI malignancy, and inflammatory bowel disease.
The research team found that COVID-19 patients with GI symptoms were more likely to have acute respiratory distress syndrome (odds ratio, 1.20; 95% confidence interval, 1.11-1.29), sepsis (OR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.14-1.24), acute kidney injury (OR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.24-1.36), venous thromboembolism (OR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.22-1.52), and GI bleeding (OR 1.62; 95% CI, 1.47-1.79), as compared with COVID-19 patients without GI symptoms (P < .0001 for all comparisons). At the same time, those with GI symptoms were less likely to experience cardiomyopathy (OR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.77-0.99; P = .027), respiratory failure (OR, 0.92; 95% CI, 0.88-0.95; P < .0001), or death (OR, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.67-0.75; P < .0001).
GI bleed was the most common GI complication, found among 2% of all patients, and was more likely in patients with GI symptoms than in those without (3.5% vs. 1.6%). Intestinal ischemia, pancreatitis, acute liver injury, and intestinal pseudo-obstruction weren’t associated with GI symptoms.
Among the 19,915 patients with GI symptoms, older age, higher Charlson Comorbidity Index scores, use of proton pump inhibitors, and use of H2 receptor antagonists were associated with higher mortality, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis, and ventilator or oxygen requirement. Men with GI symptoms also had a higher risk of mortality, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis.
In particular, proton pump inhibitor use was associated with more than twice the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (OR, 2.19; 95% CI, 1.32-1.66; P < .0001). Similarly, H2 receptor antagonist use was associated with higher likelihood of death (OR, 1.78; 95% CI, 1.57-2.02), as well as more than three times the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (OR, 3.75; 95% CI, 3.29-4.28), more than twice the risk of sepsis (OR, 2.50; 95% CI, 2.28-2.73), and nearly twice the risk of ventilator or oxygen dependence (OR, 1.97; 95% CI, 1.68-2.30) (P < .0001 for all).
The findings could guide risk stratification, prognosis, and treatment decisions in COVID-19 patients with GI symptoms, as well as inform future research focused on risk mitigation and improvement of COVID-19 outcomes, Dr. Patil said.
“The protocols for COVID-19 treatment have changed over the past 2 years with blood thinners and steroids,” she said. “Although we likely can’t avoid anti-reflux medicines entirely, it’s something we need to be cognizant of and look out for in our hospitalized patients.”
One study limitation was its inclusion of only inpatient or ED encounters and, therefore, omission of those treated at home; this confers bias toward those with more aggressive disease, according to the authors.
The authors reported no grant support or funding sources for this study. One author declared grant support and consultant fees from several companies, including some medical and pharmaceutical companies, which were unrelated to this research. Dr. Patil reported no disclosures.
This article was updated Aug. 26, 2022.