We've learned a lot about the symptoms of COVID-19 over the last few months. Though it's been classified as a respiratory illness by the CDC, COVID-19's symptoms go far beyond those typically associated with the respiratory system, such as coughing or a sore throat. Among other symptoms (including fever, fatigue, and loss of taste or smell), COVID-19 can also cause digestive distress, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. But just feeling nauseous or throwing up doesn't necessarily mean you've caught the virus. So how do you know if the nausea you're feeling is a sign of COVID-19?
Why Does COVID-19 Cause Nausea?
Anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of COVID-19 patients will experience diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting before any other symptom, gastroenterologist Michael Kattah, MD, PhD, told UCSF Magazine. A study from April found that 50 percent of 204 coronavirus patients experienced digestive symptoms, including diarrhea, lack of appetite, and vomiting. As more data continues to emerge, it's clear that digestive symptoms, including nausea, can and do occur in many COVID-19 patients.
The exact mechanism behind coronavirus-related nausea is still being studied. According to Dr. Kattah, swallowing virus particles may allow them to infect the cells lining your stomach, small intestine, or colon; breathing them in, by contrast, would bring the virus directly into the lungs. Nausea as a symptom also makes some sense on a molecular level. The virus attacks a specific enzyme in your body, ACE2, which is present throughout your body, including your heart, lungs, and digestive system — all of which can be harmed by COVID-19.
How to Tell If Your Nausea Is a Symptom of COVID-19
"It would be wise to consider that you may have COVID-19 if you develop vomiting and diarrhea and have no other obvious cause," said emergency medicine physician Jorge Vournas, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, CA, in an interview with Health. If this is the case, you would then need to arrange a coronavirus test with your doctor or at the nearest testing facility. Make sure to tell the healthcare provider that you're experiencing symptoms before going in.
According to The New York Times, nausea and other digestive issues are common symptoms, but they're not as widely seen as fever, dry coughing, loss of taste and smell, or fatigue. A study from USC also noted that in most cases, nausea will show up after fever, coughing, and muscle pain, but before diarrhea. This could be another clue to determine whether or not your nausea is coronavirus-related, but remember that a test and your doctor are the most reliable tools. If you think you might have COVID-19, talk to a healthcare provider and continue taking precautions, such as self-isolating and wearing a face mask, to avoid spreading it to others.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.