Ethical Dilemmas and Digestive Symptoms –Common with COVID-19

Ethical Dilemmas:

Full link: NEJM: Facing Covid-19 in Italy — Ethics, Logistics, and Therapeutics on the Epidemic’s Front Line

That truth is rather grim. Though Italy’s health system is highly regarded and has 3.2 hospital beds per 1000 people (as compared with 2.8 in the United States), it has been impossible to meet the needs of so many critically ill patients simultaneously…

If protecting patients is difficult, so is protecting health care workers, including nurses, respiratory therapists, and those tasked to clean the rooms between patients…

Though approaches vary even within a single hospital, I sensed that age was often given the most weight.

In the midst of the outbreak’s peak in northern Italy, as physicians struggled to wean patients off ventilators while others developed severe respiratory decompensation, hospitals had to lower the age cutoff — from 80 to 75 at one hospital, for instance…

The first and most important is to separate clinicians providing care from those making triage decisions. The “triage officer,” backed by a team with expertise in nursing and respiratory therapy, would make resource-allocation decisions and communicate them to the clinical team, the patient, and the family.

Digestive Symptoms:

From ACG: Full Link: ACG Media Statement

Excerpt:  (March 18, 2020) – Digestive symptoms are common in COVID19, occurring as the chief complaint in nearly half of patients presenting to hospital according to a new
descriptive, cross-sectional multicenter study from China by investigators from the Wuhan Medical Treatment Expert Group for COVID-19 published today in The American Journal of Gastroenterology

Key findings:

  • Compared to COVID-19 patients without digestive symptoms, those with digestive symptoms have a longer time from onset to admission and a worse clinical outcome according to this analysis by investigators from several hospitals and research centers in China who gathered data on 204 patients with COVID-19 presenting to three
    hospitals in Hubei province from January 18, 2020 to February 28, 2020.
  • Patients with digestive symptoms had a variety of manifestations, such as anorexia (83 [83.8%] cases), diarrhea (29 [29.3%] cases), vomiting (8 [0.8%] cases), and abdominal pain (4 [0.4%] cases)
  • As the severity of the disease increased, digestive symptoms became more pronounced.
  • Link to study: Pan L, et al., Clinical characteristics of COVID-19 patients with digestive symptoms in Hubei, China: a descriptive, cross-sectional, multicenter study, Am J Gastroenterol 


A cure for satiety

A safe cure for excessive appetite is a holy grail in pharmacology.  Although gluttony is a much more pervasive problem that poor appetite, an effective cure for satiety is also needed.  In the clinical setting, poor appetite remains a common problem with and without underlying problems.  Treatments to this point, such as cyproheptadine or megestrol, may be useful in some patients.  Better treatments are needed.  One drug of interest is ghrelin (Cancer 2012; DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27430).

The introduction summarizes ghrelin’s biologic activity: “Ghrelin is an endogenous ligand for the growth hormone (GH) secretagogue receptor and is secreted predominantly by gastric endocrine cells.  It induces dose-dependent, GH-releasing activity; stimulates appetite and food intake; and triggers a positive energy balance through a central mechanism involving hypothalamic neuropeptides.”

Plasma ghrelin levels decrease after gastric resection, helping to maintain weight loss. Therefore, the stomach may act as endocrine organ to maintain appropriate weight. Exogenous administration may increase appetite.

This cited article reports a prospective randomized placebo-controlled phase 2 study in which ghrelin was administered to 21 patients with esophageal cancer, receiving cisplatin-based chemotherapy; the dosage was 3 μcg/kg twice daily for 1 week.  A placebo group  (n=20) received saline.  The ghrelin group consumed 18.2 kcal/kg/day compared with 12.7 kcal/kg/day.  A measure of appetite, an appetite visual analog score, was also higher in the ghrelin-treated patients, 6.2 vs 4.1.  Patients in the ghrelin group had fewer adverse effects of chemotherapy related to anorexia and nausea than patients in the control group.  One patient receiving ghrelin stopped therapy because of excessive diaphoresis.

Although this medication is being studied in adult chemotherapy patients, down the road ghrelin and potential analogs may have a role in pediatric patients with a variety of disorders which inhibit their appetite.

Additional references:

  • -Adachi S, Takiguchi S, Okada K, et al. Effects of ghrelin administration after total gastrectomy: a prospective, randomized, placebo- controlled phase II study. Gastroenterology. 2010;138:1312-1320.
  • -NEJM 2002; 346: 1623-30, 1662. Plasma ghrelin levels decrease after gastric resection.   Therefore, stomach may act as endocrine organ to maintain appropriate weight. However, ghrelin levels are reduced in obesity; so it is not clear that further reduction of these levels is clinically important.
  • -Gastroenterology 2003; 125: 1492. Review of ghrelin.
  • -Yamamoto K, Takiguchi S, Miyata H, et al. Randomized phase II study of clinical effects of ghrelin after esophagectomy with gastric tube reconstruction. Surgery. 2010;141:31-38.
  • -Nakazato M, Murakami N, Date Y, et al. A role for ghrelin in the central regulation of feeding. Nature. 2001;409:194-198.
  • -Kojima M, Hosoda H, Date Y, et al. Ghrelin is a growth-hormone- releasing acylated peptide from stomach. Nature. 1999; 402:656- 660.
  • Review of cited article.