Long-term Gastrointestinal Sequelae Following COVID-19: A Prospective Follow-up Cohort Study

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2023 Mar;21(3):789-796.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2022.10.015. Epub 2022 Oct 21.


Background & aims: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is associated with long-term gastrointestinal sequelae; however, prospective longitudinal data are sparse. We prospectively studied the frequency, spectrum, and risk factors of post infection functional gastrointestinal disorders/disorders of gut-brain interaction (PI-FGID/DGBI) after COVID-19.

Methods: Three hundred twenty cases with COVID-19 and 2 control groups, group A, 320 healthy spouses/family controls, and group B, 280 healthy COVID serology-negative controls, were prospectively followed up at 1, 3, and 6 months by using validated Rome IV criteria to evaluate the frequency of PI-FGID/DGBI.

Results: Of 320 cases, at 1 month 36 (11.3%) developed FGID symptoms. Persistent symptoms were noted in 27 (8.4%) at 3 months and in 21 (6.6%) at 6 months. At 3 months, 8 (2.5%) had irritable bowel syndrome, 7 (2.2%) had functional diarrhea, 6 (1.9%) had functional dyspepsia, 3 (0.9%) had functional constipation, 2 (0.6%) had functional dyspepsia-IBS overlap, and 1 (0.3%) had functional abdominal bloating/distention. Among symptomatic individuals at 3 months, 8 (29.6%) were positive for isolated carbohydrate malabsorption, 1 (3.7%) was positive for post infection malabsorption syndrome, and 1 (3.7%) was positive for intestinal methanogen overgrowth. None of the healthy controls developed FGID up to 6 months of follow-up (P < .01). Predictive factors at 3 and 6 months were severity of infection (P < .01) and presence of gastrointestinal symptoms at the time of infection (P < .01).

Conclusions: COVID-19 led to significantly higher number of new onset PI-FGID/DGBI compared with healthy controls at 3 and 6 months of follow-up. If further investigated, some patients can be diagnosed with underlying malabsorption.

Keywords: COVID-19; Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGID); Long COVID; Post Infection-Irritable Bowel Syndrome (PI-IBS).

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / complications
  • Disease Progression
  • Dyspepsia* / diagnosis
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome* / complications
  • Malabsorption Syndromes*
  • Prospective Studies