Researchers looked at the presenting symptoms of nearly 12,000 people who were tested for COVID-19 at five New York City emergency departments.
Of the patients who tested positive, those well-known symptoms were the most common: fever (74% reported this), shortness of breath (68%), and cough (65%).
But a majority of positive COVID-19 cases were accompanied by more obscure signs: weakness (58%), poor blood sugar control (56%) and gastrointestinal symptoms (51%).
Older patients reported certain symptoms more often
The scientists also found that some symptoms were more common in people, over 65. 77% of people with diarrhea, 74% of people reporting fatigue, and 69% of people complaining of weakness tested positive for COVID-19.
And older patients with four symptoms—dehydration, altered mental status, falls and high blood sugar—were at higher risk for death.
The study’s findings can help hospitals improve COVID treatment and are “important for family members and people that work with the elderly to better identify possible warning signs of COVID-19 infection,” study co-author Dr. Christopher Clifford of Mount Sinai told Reuters.
Be aware of this potential symptom
In particular, the study joins a growing body of research that has found how common gastrointestinal symptoms are with coronavirus—sometimes as the only symptom.
This month, a review of 36 studies found that nearly 20% patients reported only stomach problems after being infected with COVID-19, including appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
One aspect of COVID-19 that has been particularly vexing for doctors is that 40% of people infected may never show symptoms of the disease, but go on to infect people who are at higher risk for worse outcomes, including the elderly and immunocompromised.
So do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place:
Wear a face mask,
get tested if you think you have coronavirus,
avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties),
practice social distancing,
only run essential errands,
wash your hands regularly,
disinfect frequently touched surfaces.