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COVID-19 Greatly Increases Diabetes Risk

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COVID-19 Greatly Increases Diabetes Risk

People who survive an initial COVID-19 infection are much more likely to develop diabetes in the next six months than people who didn’t have COVID-19, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature.

As we noted in a previous news item on the same study, researchers set out to examine the effects of having COVID-19 in people who survived the initial 30-day phase of the infection. Instead of looking at just one outcome, they looked at every possible health-related outcome using databases from the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs — including new diagnoses of health conditions, medication use, and laboratory test results. These outcomes were compared in people who had tested positive for COVID-19 and similar people who hadn’t tested positive for the viral infection.

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COVID-diabetes link

Initial news reports on the Nature study — and our previous news item — mostly focused on the higher risk for debilitating illness and death seen over six months in people who survived the first 30 days after developing COVID-19. But as noted in a Bloomberg article on the study, one outcome with potentially long-term implications for the healthcare system is the much higher risk for developing diabetes seen in people who survive COVID-19. As described in that article, the study’s lead researcher was initially so surprised by the results for diabetes that he asked his colleagues to double-check their calculations — which they did, reaching the same result. People with COVID-19 were 39% more likely to receive a diabetes diagnosis in the six months after developing the infection.

As might be expected, the risk for developing diabetes was far greater in people who had been hospitalized for COVID-19. For every 1,000 people who were hospitalized, an additional 37 developed diabetes in the next six months compared with people who didn’t have COVID-19. For people who weren’t hospitalized for COVID-19, there were 6.5 additional new diabetes diagnoses per 1,000 people. Since 130,000 people in the United States were hospitalized for COVID-19 just during the winter peak of the virus, the higher risk for diabetes indicates that COVID-19 could potentially lead to tens of thousands of new diabetes diagnoses in the United States alone — and even more if the trend continues beyond six months after developing the infection.

The Bloomberg article also notes that there is evidence suggesting COVID-19 could contribute to type 2 diabetes in children, with potentially serious immediate health consequences. One hospital — Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — found that in 2020, about 20% of new cases of pediatric type 2 required hospitalization for diabetic ketoacidosis (a medical emergency characterized by high blood glucose and the buildup of chemicals called ketones in the blood). In contrast, in 2019, only 3% of new cases of pediatric type 2 required hospitalization for diabetic ketoacidosis. Among those hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis in 2020, about one-third tested positive for antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19, indicating a previous viral infection.

These results make clearer than ever before that COVID-19 can have potentially serious long-term consequences, even in people who weren’t hospitalized for the infection — and that a higher number of people with diabetes may be one of the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

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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