COVID-19 (Coronavirus) & IBS: What You Need to Know

7 min read

Dr Jossy Onwude

Chief Medical Officer

With the rapid worldwide spread of the 2019 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and its symptoms, governments and health organizations around the globe are working to mobilize the resources necessary to test, monitor, and treat individuals who are symptomatic or dangerously ill.

However, while we are all vulnerable now, there are many among us who are far more susceptible to experiencing complications at the hand of COVID-19. Those with compromised immune systems, certain chronic conditions, or older age are likely to suffer more from COVID-19 due to the symptoms of the virus, and so we are all encouraged to take precautionary measures to ensure we don’t spread the disease.

For those of us in the IBS community, understanding the virus’ impact is important, as it is not just a physical issue, but a psychosocial one too. The stress and fear around COVID-19 further express themselves through some symptoms which are specifically relevant to the IBS community.

While the most common symptoms of infection are coughing and fever, reports from China and two studies, in particular, cite that the coronavirus can induce specific gastric symptoms(1)(2)in patients before respiratory symptoms show up. Furthermore, some among you in the IBS community may be relying on critically important medication that may increase your risk of complications with COVID-19. We urge our community to stick together (virtually) and to heed the advice that’s currently being given to stop the spread of the disease, including:

  • washing your hands frequently, especially the fingertips, for 20 seconds
  • disinfecting anything you frequently use daily such as smartphones, notebooks, pens, common surfaces, and home computers
  • staying at home and avoid crowds
  • disinfecting your immediate surroundings if you are out or at work
  • sneezing or coughing into a tissue or your sleeve
  • putting used tissues into a no-hands bin; and
  • avoiding touching one’s face.

IBS is a condition that is acutely sensitive to stress and anxiety. Just as many health organizations are urging families to disinfect their surroundings and practice social distancing, we specifically encourage our readers to avoid panic buying, not to make any drastic dietary changes, and to maintain current routine.

What We Know About the Coronavirus

  • The novel coronavirus is one of many of its kind, some of which include previous versions of the common cold, as well as other viruses that have infected animal populations.
  • Coronaviruses are not typically transmittable from one species to another, but some are, including this one.
  • While some claim that the virus is similar to the flu, the two are not equivalent. Some of the symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to those of the flu, yet the disease currently has a higher death rate.
  • The most common symptoms currently attributed to the coronavirus include fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle pain.
  • It is important to stress that if you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, or any tightening of the chest/difficulty breathing, contact a medical professional via phone for specific medical advice.
  • If your symptoms are mild and you are not at risk, be sure to stay at home and inform anyone you have had contact with in the past two weeks. Do not leave, except for medical care. Enlist the help of others for supplies. Stay in touch with a healthcare professional.
  • The disease mostly affects those with preexisting conditions and the elderly yet can be transmitted by anyone. This means even the healthy and young can be carriers, and most are asymptomatic for 2-14 days before the first symptoms show up, with 1 percent showing symptoms only after 14 days(6).
  • This makes taking preemptive measures to slow the spread of the virus critical for reducing the strain it might have on the healthcare system once symptoms begin to crop up among the infected population (also known as “flattening the curve”(3)).
  • There are currently no approved treatments for the coronavirus, but a vaccine is underway. However, it is estimated that it will take anywhere from 12 to 18 months of testing to ensure the safety of any vaccine.
  • Medicines that have had promising results include select antiviral drugs(8), Interferon B(9), Plaquenil(10), and others.

Managing Anxiety & IBS During the Coronavirus Crisis

The mental impact of a crisis can be staggering, not only on the psyche but also on the body. Dealing with this stress is key to managing the symptoms of IBS, which are more sensitive to emotional troubles.

Everyone is encouraged to minimize their physical contact with others, which can be socially isolating. Furthermore, the daily panic spread by a constant media barrage of escalating conditions around the world further contributes to the impact that the coronavirus is having on the IBS community.

We encourage our readers to take measures to manage their anxiety and panic at home, with a few pointers:

  • Minimize your contact with news media and filter your social feed. While information is critical at a time like this, it is easy to be overwhelmed by it. Schedule a time period when you wish to check-in for certain alerts or have a friend or family member inform you when something important has happened.
  • Filter your feed and remove or ignore tags and keywords that only contribute to causing anxiety. If possible, stay off certain social media platforms while in quarantine and focus on different tasks altogether.
  • Stay in touch with loved ones and friends by scheduling voice calls and video calls, plan virtual activities together through apps such as Netflix Party(7)and video games(11), and remember that you are not alone in this.
  • Maintain your current diet and routine and be sure to establish a clear schedule for yourself. Set time aside to focus on self-care routines that you might have been slacking off on or have wanted to start to but have had no time to incorporate into your day.
  • Sleep is critically important for giving your body the defenses it needs to stay strong in the fight against any infection. Try to maintain good sleep hygiene by engaging in a sleep ritual that helps you relax and ease into a long slumber.
  • Pick a home workout plan that helps you get a little exercise in. Many yoga teachers and trainers are offering free online classes via live streaming services and YouTube to help those currently quarantined stay fit.
  • Mindfulness practices, meditation, and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) practices can greatly help with symptoms of IBS. There is plenty of research(4)(5)supporting the use of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the treatment of IBS. Zemedy helps individuals with IBS apply CBT practices at home, and better manage their symptoms without physical access to a therapist.
  • If you have a lawn or window space with sunlight, consider planting sprouts, green leafy vegetables, and other plants for food and the many soothing benefits of tending to plants of your own.
  • Know that by taking the steps to socially distance yourself, you are doing your part to quelling the spread of a dangerous disease.

Coronavirus’ Impact on IBS and Other Gastric Conditions

We currently do not know the full extent to which the coronavirus affects IBS and individuals with severe gastric conditions such as IBD (irritable bowel disease) and Crohn’s disease. Sometimes, patients with these conditions also rely on immunosuppressant medication to manage their symptoms and it is unclear whether these medications affect the progression of the virus. For patients on immunosuppressant medication for a gastric condition, please consult theIOIBD’s pageand contact your doctor for specific recommendations.

Pandemics spread not only disease, but also fear – and the effects of such fear must be managed just as much as the disease would be. While we isolate ourselves to protect those we love, we cannot afford to isolate ourselves mentally or ignore the psychological effects of quarantine.

Zemedy helps those in the IBS community continue to manage their symptoms and utilize proven and research-based CBT practices to calm themselves in the face of uncertain times and seek relief. We live in a day and age where technological solutions can come to our aid and keep us connected with the world, provide critical information, and help us combat this disease in unity - while remaining at least two metres apart!


  1. Gu J, Han B, Wang J, COVID-19:Gastrointestinal manifestations and potential fecal-oral transmission, Gastroenterology (2020), doi:
  2. Xiao F, Tang M, Zheng X, Liu Y, Li X, Shan H,Evidence for gastrointestinal infection of SARS-CoV-2, Gastroenterology (2020), doi:
  3. Stevens, Harry. (2020, March 14)Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”,Washington Post
  4. Everett H, Landau S, O’Reilly G, Sibelli A, Hughes S, Windgassen S, et al.Cognitive behavioural therapy for irritable bowel syndrome: 24-month follow-up of participants in the ACTIB randomised trial,The Lancet (2019) doi:
  5. Kinsinger S,Cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with irritable bowel syndrome: current insights,Dove Medical Press (2017), doi:
  6. Lauer S, Grantz K, et al.The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application(2020), doi:
  7. Trepany, Charles. (2020, March 17)Netflix Party lets friends have movie nights while social distancing. Here's how it works,USA Today
  8. Bryner, Jeanna. (2020, March 19)Flu drug used in Japan shows promise in treating COVID-19,LiveScience
  9. Yaffe, Helen. (2020, March 18)Cuba and coronavirus: how Cuban biotech came to combat COVID-19,LSE Latin America and Caribbean
  10. Pfeiffer, Mary. (2020, March 18)Researchers Look To Old Drugs For A Possible Coronavirus Treatment,Forbes
  11. Stuart, Keith. Webber, Jordan. Dredge, Stuart.25 best video games to help you socialise while self-isolating,The Guardian