70 Percent of Severe COVID Patients Have Damage Here, Study Finds

COVID causes well-known lung issues, but it can also do serious damage to this organ.

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Coronavirus is known for causing potentially serious damage to the lungs, prompting shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and sometimes leading to more serious complications, including pulmonary embolisms, pneumonia, and even death. However, new research suggests your lungs aren't the only organ being adversely affected by the virus—a July 2020 study published in the journal Hepatology reveals that many hospitalized coronavirus patients are also experiencing liver damage.

man holding abdomen in pain, stomach symptoms
Shutterstock/diy13

The study observed 1,827 patients with confirmed cases of coronavirus who were admitted in the Yale-New Haven Health System between March 14 and April 23. At the time of admission, most of the patients studied presented with abnormal levels of four key enzymes that can indicate liver damage or disease: 66.9 percent had higher-than-normal levels of aspartate transaminase (AST), a liver enzyme essential to the metabolism of amino acids; 41.2 percent had abnormal levels of alanine transaminase (ALT), which converts protein into energy; 13.5 percent with abnormal levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP), which helps break down protein; and 4.3 percent had abnormal levels of total bilirubin (TBIL), a natural byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells.

At peak hospitalization, those numbers had risen to 83.4 percent, 61.6 percent, 22.7 percent, and 16.1 percent, respectively. While many of the coronavirus patients studied already had elevated liver enzymes prior to hospitalization, the study's authors underscored the distinct connection between abnormal liver tests and more severe cases of COVID, noting that those with liver abnormalities were also more likely to suffer adverse outcomes.

However, when it comes to the severity of a particular coronavirus case, not all liver ailments are created equal. A May 2020 study published in the Journal of Hepatology found that hospitalized patients with both COVID and cirrhosis of the liver had a 40 percent overall risk of mortality, while coronavirus patients with liver disease without cirrhosis had just a 12 percent risk of death.

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That doesn't mean severe COVID complications for liver disease patients are necessarily a foregone conclusion, though. To minimize adverse health outcomes for liver patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that anyone with coronavirus continue to take any prescribed medication for liver-related health issues; get vaccinated for illnesses that could lead to complications, like flu and hepatitis; come up with a medical plan with your doctor; and quit smoking. And for more information on how COVID affects your overall health, check out these Frightening New Things Doctors Say COVID-19 Does to Your Body.

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