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It's Not Just A Respiratory Disease: How COVID Can Impact Your Gut

Woman holds her stomach while standing at the entrance to a restroom.
A number of Dr. Saiger's patients have experienced diarrhea and other G.I. issues up to six months after having COVID.

Much has been reported about COVID-19’s effect on the respiratory system. But it can also cause gastrointestinal problems.

Dr. Salma Saiger, a family care physician in Mesquite, is helping to recruit patients for a clinical trial into a treatment for COVID-related gastrointestinal issues.

KERA's Sam Baker talked with Dr. Saiger about what she’s seen among her patients.


Diarrhea And COVID:

In my practice, we are seeing close to 50% of patients having diarrhea as one of their symptoms with COVID. Also, cramps associated with diarrhea or abdominal pain.

The scientific evidence is there that one of the symptoms of COVID is diarrhea. Close to 60% of people who are having long bouts of COVID are still complaining of diarrhea up to six months after having COVID.

Can GI Issues Contribute To The Severity Of COVID?

It does make it worse. Imagine you're having COVID, but you're having diarrhea, too, with it. The possible dehydration, lack of energy, fatigue, and lack of potassium and electrolytes could damage your immune system. Also, it makes your recovery very hard and makes the patient very weak.

How GI Symptoms Are Linked to COVID

This bacteria can infect your intestinal linings, too. It disturbs the normal flora, the normal bacteria in your summit. And that's how it causes diarrhea.

Why GI Symptoms Are Mentioned Less Than Respiratory

Everybody's more interested in their shortness of breath and their lack of sense of smell and all those sorts of things.

But when we started asking patients if they have a cold, cough, runny nose? Do you have a sore throat, diarrhea? That's when we started to see that every other person is complaining of diarrhea. That yes, I'm having three bowel movements in half a day period, sort of a thing. So it is one of those underreported symptoms.

Maybe because the upper respiratory symptoms are a little bit more troublesome. You can get into more shortness of breath and can go into ICU settings, where ventilators or oxygen is needed. They're more worried about the upper respiratory symptoms.


There's symptomatic care: Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, medications over the counter. Otherwise, there's no approved medication for the intestinal infection of COVID to make sure that this gets eradicated from their system.

Clinical Trials:

We’re testing a treatment for the intestinal infection of COVID. Niclosamide has been on the market for many years. It's been used on close to a million patients for different indications of diarrhea. So it has a safety profile but has never been looked at in big clinical trials for COVID-19.

The initial evidence suggests that it has anti-COVID activity. It has an entire viral antioxidant activity against COVID. So that's why we are doing more trials to find out more about its efficacy and safety in the COVID-19 patients.


RESERVOIR COVID-19 GI Clinical Trial Sites

AzurRx BioPharma Initiates Phase 2 Clinical Trial of Niclosamide for the Treatment of COVID-19 Gastrointestinal Infections

Gastrointestinal symptoms in COVID-19: What we know so far and why it is important

The roles of nausea and vomiting in COVID-19: did we miss something?

COVID-19: Gastrointestinal symptoms and complications

Mayo Clinic expert explains gastrointestinal symptoms related to COVID-19

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.