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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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:
The following signs and symptoms indicate an emergency and a need to seek medical attention right away, according to the American Diabetes Association:
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) provides the following tips if you think you might have COVID-19:
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.
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