COVID-19: Diabetes and High Glucose Related to Longer Hospital Stay, Higher Death Risk

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Interior of Hospital -- COVID-19 High Glucose

It’s long been known or suspected that people with diabetes could be at a higher risk for worse outcomes — such as more severe illness, a higher rate of hospitalization, and a higher risk of death — if they get COVID-19 (the new coronavirus infection). Earlier this month, a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that people with diabetes do, in fact, make up a disproportionate share of COVID-19 hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units (ICUs).

But most research hasn’t accounted for the effect that blood glucose levels may have on outcomes related to COVID-19 in people with diabetes. So a new study is notable for shedding light on why blood glucose control is so important during this pandemic.

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New study based on insulin management software

The new study, published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, used data from the insulin software management company Glytec, which provides in-hospital services. As noted in a Business Wire article on the study, the 88 participating hospitals were in 11 states across all regions of the United States. All 1,122 participating patients had COVID-19, and 451, or 40%, had diagnosed diabetes, high blood glucose (defined as two readings above 180 mg/dl within 24 hours), or an HbA1c level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) of at least 6.5%.

Researchers found that within this group of people with diabetes and elevated blood glucose levels, the in-hospital mortality rate was 29% — more than four times as high as in COVID-19 patients without diabetes or high blood glucose. Even more shocking was that among participants with no evidence or history of diabetes before their hospital stay, those that developed high blood glucose in the hospital had a mortality rate of 42% — seven times as high as in those without elevated glucose.

Among study participants who survived and were discharged from the hospital, those with diabetes or high blood glucose had a longer hospital stay — a median length of 5.7 days, compared with 4.3 days for those without elevated glucose.

Take-aways for people with diabetes

The new study highlights the importance of blood glucose control — both in general among people with diabetes, and for medical professionals once someone is admitted to the hospital. Among COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized, diligently monitoring and correcting blood glucose levels may be important factors in survival, even if a person isn’t known to have diabetes when they’re admitted to the hospital.

But the most important lesson from this study may be that because of the worse outcomes they tend to experience, people with diabetes should take precautions to prevent infection with the new coronavirus. That includes staying at home whenever possible, wearing a cloth mask or face covering in public, not touching your face, and washing your hands frequently, according to the CDC.

People with diabetes should also take certain specific precautions, such as continuing with your prescribed treatment plan, testing and tracking your blood glucose levels every four hours, and making sure you have at least a two-week supply of your diabetes medications and supplies, the CDC notes.

If you do become sick and suspect it may be COVID-19, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms and follow your doctor’s advice about what to do if your symptoms worsen. The safest course of action may be for you to stay at home during your illness, but don’t hesitate to seek urgent or emergency medical attention if you experience signs of severe disease, such as trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion or inability to be roused, or a bluish color to your lips or face.

Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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