Is Constipation a Symptom of COVID-19?

Could there be a link between COVID-19 and constipation? We asked doctors to explain it.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, there were a lot of questions as to what all of its possible symptoms were, including gastrointestinal (GI) issues, like diarrhea and constipation.

While doctors said that constipation alone wasn't a common sign of COVID-19, there could be some related things that might cause you to get stopped up. Here's what you need to know about the link between constipation and COVID-19.

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What Usually Causes Constipation?

Constipation is a condition where you're not pooping often or having difficulty pooping, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

There's a massive range of things that can lead to constipation, per the NIDDK, including:

  • Slow movement of your colon
  • Difficulty emptying your colon due to a pelvic floor disorder
  • A functional gastrointestinal disorder like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Certain medications and supplements, including antacids, diuretics, iron supplements, narcotics, and some antidepressants
  • Pregnancy
  • Getting older
  • Traveling
  • Ignoring the urge to go
  • Changing how much and what you eat
  • Not eating enough fiber
  • Being dehydrated
  • Not exercising enough
  • Disorders of the brain and spine, like Parkinson's disease
  • Conditions that affect your metabolism, like diabetes
  • Conditions that impact your hormones, like hypothyroidism
  • Intestinal obstructions
  • Anatomic issues with your GI tract

What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?

You can consider yourself constipated if you have the following symptoms, according to the NIDDK:

  • Fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • Poop that is hard, dry, or lumpy
  • Poop that is difficult or painful to pass
  • A feeling that not all poop has passed

What Are the Signs of COVID-19, Again?

Constipation is not included in the official list of COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

So Can COVID-19 Cause Constipation?

There are some anecdotal stories that attempt to link people with COVID-19 and constipation, but research does not make a strong connection between them, and most studies don't show any direct link at all.

For example, in a 2021 study published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, researchers set out to evaluate the GI symptoms of 507 COVID-19 patients. Almost half (47.9%) had at least one GI symptom. Nausea and/or vomiting was the most common symptom (31.6%), followed by diarrhea (17.8%) and abdominal pain (9.9%)—but no mention of constipation. This study also cites several other studies that also looked at GI symptoms during COVID-19 infection, and while they all had differing percentages (which, study authors said, could be due to differing definitions of diarrhea, for example), all cited the main GI symptoms as being nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea—but no mention of constipation.

If you find yourself with COVID-19 and are constipated at the same time, you might be wondering if there's a connection. While you'll find varying statistics on how common constipation is (again, due to varying definitions of it, depending on how regularly it occurs), the NIDDK states that about 16 out of 100 adults have symptoms of constipation. That number increases to 33 out of 100 for those over the age of 60. Because it's a common occurrence, it's difficult to say if COVID-19 actually causes the condition or if it's a coincidence when it does happen in COVID-19 patients, John Sellick, DO, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo/SUNY, told Health.

For what it's worth: Doctors also haven't really seen this in the field. "Constipation isn't something I've seen as a COVID symptom," infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Health. "When GI symptoms are present, it is usually diarrhea."

Dr. Sellick agreed. "Usually when I see a patient who says they have new constipation in the setting of an infection, it's because they're dehydrated," explained Dr. Sellick. If you're sick during the warmer months, making you more likely to sweat, your constipation risk can go up if you're not replacing those fluids—whether you have COVID-19 or not, added Dr. Sellick.

And there is research that showed that during the pandemic when the world shut down, people's habits changed—and this alone could be a cause of constipation. For example, in a 2021 study published in BMJ Open Gastroenterology, study authors surveyed 678 participants during the COVID-19 lockdown (participants didn't necessarily have COVID-19). Of the 678 people, 170 of them reported "new-onset" constipation. These researchers felt that this was due to a lack of physical activity during the lockdown period, as well as less water consumption.

"Yes, you might have constipation and COVID-19, but it's likely not constipation caused by COVID-19," said Dr. Sellick.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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