A large body of research now shows that people with diabetes are especially likely to experience poor outcomes if they develop COVID-19 — such as hospitalization, admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), and death. But many of these studies focused only on the immediate consequences of COVID-19, rather than the long-term effects on health. Some studies, though, have shown or hinted that COVID-19 may have long-term health consequences. One study showed that even after the acute phase of COVID-19, people who developed the infection were far more likely to experience acute kidney injury or a decline in kidney function in the following months. Another study showed that people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were less likely to die of other causes than people who weren’t vaccinated — demonstrating that the viral infection may lead to deaths that aren’t counted as COVID-19 deaths.
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For the latest study, researchers followed 443 people who tested positive for COVID-19 over the next few months, with a median follow-up period of 9.6 months. Their health outcomes were compared with those of a group of 1,328 people who took part in a general health study, and were matched with the COVID-19 group based on age, sex, and education level. The researchers looked at lung, heart, kidney, vascular, and neurological outcomes in both groups over the same period of time.
COVID-19 infection linked to worse health indicators
The researchers found that compared with the general population group, people who tested positive for COVID-19 — the vast majority of whom were not hospitalized for the infection — had worse health indicators in a few different areas. They had slightly lower lung volume, along with higher airway resistance. They had slightly lower function in both the right and left ventricles of their heart, along with higher values of certain blood markers that may indicate worse heart health. There were no apparent differences, though, in findings from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the heart.
One indicator of deep vein thrombosis — a serious condition in which clots form in deep veins — known as sonographically non-compressible femoral veins was 2.7 times as common in members of the COVID-19 group, suggesting that the infection may cause substantial damage to blood vessels throughout the body. Glomerular filtration rate (GFR), a measure of kidney function, was also somewhat lower in the COVID-19 group. There was no difference in brain volume, presence of microbleeds in the brain, or overall cognitive function between the two groups.
The researchers concluded that even in people who apparently recovered form mild to moderate COVID-19, there were lingering signs of damage to the blood vessels, heart, lungs, and kidneys, while there was no sign of brain damage. People in this group also didn’t report worse overall quality of life than members of the general population, suggesting that any major health problems related to organ damage from COVID-19 could take longer than a few months to develop — if they develop at all. More observation in the coming years will be needed to determine the long-term health impact of COVID-19 infection. In the meantime, the researchers suggested, it makes sense to screen people who have recovered from COVID-19 for the most common types of organ damage that are linked to the infection, so that any serious problems can be treated as soon as possible.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.