This Is How to Tell If Your Upset Stomach Is COVID, Doctors Say

Is your stomach hurting from eating too much during the holidays, or is it something serious?

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Most of us celebrate the holidays by cooking a large feast, which means we tend to overindulge ourselves with food—and that doesn't always leave us feeling great. Normally, we can give our stomachs time to relax after all that stuffing, but the current pandemic may bring in a new set of worries. After all, stomach discomfort is also a symptom of COVID. In fact, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report from July showed that 59 percent of all COVID patients presented at least one gastrointestinal symptom. So, how can you be sure your upset stomach is from overeating and not the virus?

Fortunately, experts say that an upset stomach after a hefty Thanksgiving meal is not an unusual occurrence. And Ann Messer, MD, a family medicine physician and founder of One Good Turn, says a "stomach ache without any other symptoms is pretty unlikely to be COVID." But if you're still worried, here are a few tell-tale signs from doctors that your upset stomach is actually COVID. And if you're concerned you've been exposed, This Is When Someone Is Most Likely to Give You COVID, Study Shows.

1
You have other digestive problems.

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Seema Sarin, MD, the director of lifestyle medicine at EHE Health, says that while you may experience gastrointestinal issues like a stomach ache, gas, or bloating after a big meal, it's "rare" that these would be your only symptoms if you had COVID. But if you have other digestive symptoms—such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea—it's more likely that you do have the coronavirus, she explains. And for more COVID signs, This Strange Symptom May Be the Earliest Sign You Have COVID, Study Says.

2
Or you're losing your sense of smell or taste.

Young smiling man smelling roasted turkey on a Thanksgiving day with his family.
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You should also pay attention to how you feel during your Thanksgiving meal, Messer says. If you have a stomach ache and weren't able to "smell the turkey cooking" earlier or if the food did not taste normal, that may be a sign you contracted COVID some time before Thanksgiving Day. Sarin says it would be "unusual" for you to lose your sense of smell or taste just from overeating, and that these are both common symptoms associated with mild or moderate coronavirus cases. And for more ways you can tell it's coronavirus, If Everything You Drink Smells Like This, You May Have COVID.

3
You experienced discomfort before you ate.

Black man experiencing stomach pain
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If your upset stomach is purely food-related, you should not have experienced any prior symptoms before you ate, says Leann Poston, MD, a licensed physician and medical advisor for Invigor Medical.

"Stomach aches from overeating on Thanksgiving should have a pattern of no symptoms prior to dinner, then upper abdominal discomfort with indigestion and heartburn," Poston explains. And for more on your chances of getting COVID, This Is How Bad the COVID Outbreak Is in Your State.

4
Or your stomach pain occurs days after Thanksgiving.

Woman hunched over experiencing stomach pain and digestive issues
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It takes time for your body to react against the virus. Sarin says you easily could have caught the virus from someone if you were eating your Thanksgiving meal with others, but it will take time to appear. The difference between stomach discomfort that's a COVID symptom and an upset stomach from overeating is that the former will show up days after Thanksgiving, Sarin explains. If you experience an upset stomach 5 to 14 days after Thanksgiving, it's more likely to be COVID. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

5
You haven't been following safety precautions.

adults and children gather around a thanksgiving table inside
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If you saw your extended family over the holidays, you're at heightened risk, says Abisola Olulade, MD, a board-certified family medical physician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. In general, if you have been around other people who may have been infected with COVID or have not been taking social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing measures seriously, then this means your upset stomach has a "higher chance of being COVID-related," she says. And for more on the risk of coronavirus exposure over the holidays, If You're Doing This, You Won't Be Totally Safe From COVID on Thanksgiving.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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