Some COVID Survivors Struggle to Regain Weight 6 Months Post-Infection

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Key Takeaways

  • Researchers have discovered that some COVID-19 survivors are having difficulty putting weight back on after having the virus.
  • Some patients had not been able to regain the weight that they had lost while they were sick, even six months after having COVID.
  • Medical experts are not sure why some people recovering from COVID are unable to gain weight.

New research has found that some people who had severe COVID-19 and lost weight are still struggling to regain that weight six months after they got sick.

In the study, researchers found that gastrointestinal symptoms as a whole are common in COVID-19, with 18.5% of the patients in the study reporting GI symptoms.

Most of the initial symptoms linked to COVID—such as gastrointestinal bleeding, gastroenteritis, and pancreatitis—improved within three months.

But the most persistent GI symptom of COVID, malnutrition, may not improve even six months after a person is ill.

It's not clear why these patients lost weight and have been unable to restore it, which is making it harder for doctors to know how best to help them.

Difficulty Gaining Weight

The study, a pre-proof to be published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, analyzed records from 17,462 people who were hospitalized in 12 New York hospitals for COVID-19 between March 2020 and January 2021.

Of those patients, 715 (or 22.1%) had gastrointestinal issues when they were sick and continued to report these symptoms at their three- and six-month follow-up visits. Some of the original health issues included:

  • Gastroenteritis (52.5%)
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding (20.4%)
  • Malnutrition (23%)
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (0.5%)

Researchers found that:

  • 50.6% of patients were not able to regain their original weight in three months, and another 32.4% were still struggling at six months.
  • Patients who had malnutrition were, on average, 156.4 pounds when they were admitted to the hospital, and had lost nearly five pounds by their three-month follow-up visit. By six months, they had lost another 2.2 pounds, on average.

They concluded that “a significant portion of patients with these complaints may have difficulty gaining weight long term.”

Why Does COVID-19 Cause GI Symptoms?

Most people associate fever, cough, and shortness of breath with COVID-19, but gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are also on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) official list of COVID symptoms.

“Coronaviruses are well known to trigger gastrointestinal symptoms,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Verywell. “The receptor for SARS-CoV2—the virus that causes COVID-19—can be found on the cells of the gastrointestinal tract.”

Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell that COVID-19 “produces widespread inflammation in the body, which can affect and disrupt the cells that line the small and large intestines, resulting in GI symptoms."

The study's co-author Arvind Trindade, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, tells Verywell that it’s “unclear” why some people are still unable to gain weight that they lost when they got sick with COVID, but that the phenomenon "deserves further research.”

The researchers found that patients may even continue to struggle with weight loss after they start to feel better. “We have seen this clinically in patients even when the gastroenteritis—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea—symptoms resolve,” Trindade says. “The exact mechanism remains unknown.” 

Adalja points out that patients who had malnutrition were usually more severely ill and needed treatments like the use of a mechanical ventilator, and that “critical illness of any sort is a risk factor for malnutrition.”

What This Means For You

If you lost weight while you had COVID and have not been able to regain it or are still losing weight, talk to a doctor. You might benefit from working with a nutritionist to help restore your weight.

Treatment for Post-COVID Weight Loss Is Unclear

Since it’s not clear why some COVID patients are continuing to lose weight or are struggling to regain lost weight, there is no set plan for treating them.

“Given the mechanism is unknown, the exact treatment is also unknown,” Trindade says. “It is unknown how long this symptom may last for.” He recommends that patients who have had COVID-19 and are struggling to regain weight see a nutritionist.

Watkins is a bit more optimistic and thinks that it's “likely” that patients will have a “gradual improvement” in their weight with time.

Trindade and his colleagues plan to follow up with the patients in a year to see if they are still struggling to regain the weight that they lost while they had COVID.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rizvi A, Patel Z, Liu Y, et al. Gastrointestinal sequelae three and six months after hospitalization for Coronavirus Disease 2019Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. Published online July 1, 2021. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2021.06.046

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of COVID-19. Updated February 22, 2021.