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What to Know About COVID-19 and Diabetes

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What to Know About COVID-19 and Diabetes

We’ve been living through the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years. During this time, more and more information has become available about COVID-19, and fortunately, vaccines and treatments have also become available. Here’s what we know so far about COVID-19 and diabetes. Of course, information is constantly changing, and that means that what we know right now could change in the near future.

People who have diabetes are not more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population.

This might seem surprising, but medical experts don’t believe that having diabetes automatically puts you at risk for COVID-19. The real concern, though, is who is at risk for developing serious complications if they’re exposed to the coronavirus.

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There are certain medical conditions that put you at risk for getting severely ill from COVID-19.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), someone with any of the following medical conditions has an increased risk of severe COVID-19. This risk increases as the number of medical conditions a person has increases (note that this isn’t a complete list):

What is concerning is that people who have diabetes may have certain complications listed above, such as chronic kidney and liver disease, heart disease, overweight and obesity, and mental health conditions.

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People with type 1 diabetes and COVID-19 who are over the age of 40 are more likely to be hospitalized.

Younger people who have type 1 diabetes and don’t have diabetes complications are at lower risk of developing severe COVID-19, according to a 2021 study in the journal Diabetologia. But based on a new study published this past September in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, adults with type 1 diabetes over the age of 40 have worse outcomes from COVID-19 compared to children and young adults. These outcomes included severe hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), and death. Of note, these adults also had a higher prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure or heart disease, and chronic kidney disease.

COVID-19 may cause diabetes.

Some people have developed diabetes after having COVID-19. How would this happen? Researchers believe that the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) can attack the pancreas, including the area of the pancreas that makes insulin called the beta cells. Also, tissues in the body can become less sensitive to insulin as a result of inflammation caused by the virus. Another consequence of the virus attacking the pancreas is that more glucagon is produced (this is a hormone that raises blood sugar). However, more research is needed to understand how SARS-CoV-2 affects the pancreas and what role the immune system might play in the resulting damage, according to the NIH Director’s Blog, published online on June 8, 2021.

People with diabetes can — and should — get the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the booster shot.

If you have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes, the CDC strongly encourages that you get the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the booster shot. As mentioned above, people who have diabetes are more likely to become seriously ill if they get COVID-19. It doesn’t matter which COVID-19 vaccine you get; Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines are all safe for people with diabetes. Understandably, you might have questions or concerns about the vaccine and the subsequent booster shot, such as the risks and benefits of getting them or even deciding not to. These are questions best directed to your health care provider.

Watch out for possible symptoms of COVID-19.

People who have COVID-19 may have a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. More than 80% of people with COVID-19 have mild, minimal flu-like symptoms. Symptoms generally appear two to four days after exposure to the virus, and many include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The following signs and symptoms indicate an emergency and a need to seek medical attention right away, according to the American Diabetes Association:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Confusion
  • Inability to wake up or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Be extra alert and prepared if you have diabetes and believe that you have COVID-19.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) provides the following tips if you think you might have COVID-19:

  • If you develop flu-like symptoms or any of the symptoms listed above, contact your health care provider promptly.
  • Make sure you have enough of your diabetes medicines and supplies (such as test strips, syringes, pen needles, etc.) on hand.
  • Check your blood sugars more often than usual since any type of infection can raise your blood sugars.
  • Drink plenty of water or calorie-free drinks, as high blood sugars can be dehydrating.
  • If you take insulin, be sure to have treatment for low blood sugar available, such as glucose tablets, juice, or honey.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • If you live alone, make sure someone can check on you, especially if you become ill.

Stay up to date on COVID-19 and new developments by visiting the CDC’s website.

Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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