COVID-19 and Diabetes
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- High rates of newly diagnosed diabetes after COVID have been reported around the world
- It’s unclear if these new diabetes cases linked to COVID-19 represent truly unique diabetes or previously undiagnosed cases
- One theory is that the COVID virus damages the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar levels
- Most cases of COVID diabetes will resolve themselves within a year
COVID-19 is notorious for leaving an aftermath of puzzling symptoms, such as rashes or concentration difficulties. But doctors also worry about the coronavirus triggering a more familiar condition: diabetes.
The diagnosis of new cases of diabetes after COVID is notable since the disease is already a huge stressor on healthcare systems. It’s estimated that about 422 million people in the world have diabetes, and it contributes directly to 1.5 million deaths each year. The good news is that many cases of spontaneous COVID diabetes resolve themselves.
In this article, we’ll look at what COVID diabetes is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
What is COVID diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition in which the body either does not produce enough insulin or does not effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate the levels of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. Glucose is an important source of energy for the body, but if it builds up in the blood instead of being used by the cells, it can cause damage over time.
There are two main types of diabetes amongst the different types of diabetes:
- Type 1 Diabetes: Also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, this form of diabetes is caused by an autoimmune response that destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to replace the missing hormone.
- Type 2 Diabetes: This is the most common form of diabetes and is caused by a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. People with type 2 diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or their cells become resistant to insulin, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, but some people may also require medications or insulin therapy.
Both types of diabetes can lead to serious health complications if left untreated, including heart disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, and blindness.
Since the COVID pandemic began, doctors have reported a rise in both types of diabetes after patient infections, known as COVID diabetes. Studies have confirmed these reports. One analysis found that people who had COVID-19 were about 40% more likely to develop diabetes up to a year later than those who never got the disease. More importantly, the chance of developing diabetes rose with the severity of their COVID infection. Patients who were hospitalized or admitted to intensive care had roughly triple the risk compared with individuals who did not have COVID-19.
It should be noted that a large percentage of people with diabetes are not diagnosed. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 37 million US adults have diabetes, and 1 in 5 don't know they have it. 1
What causes diabetes after COVID?
- Patients having an undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes
- Illness causing undue stress on the body in various ways and cause blood sugar levels to rise
- COVID damaging cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, triggering type 1 diabetes
Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between COVID-19 and blood sugar levels. In the meantime, it’s crucial for individuals with pre-existing diabetes to closely monitor their blood sugar levels during the COVID-19 pandemic and seek medical attention if needed.
What are the symptoms of COVID diabetes?
If you have had COVID and are experiencing any of the following symptoms of diabetes, it’s recommended that you schedule an appointment with your doctor for a blood sugar test: 4
- Frequent urination, particularly at night
- Excessive thirst
- Unintended weight loss
- Increased hunger
- Blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Dry skin
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections
By getting your blood sugar tested, you can determine if you have diabetes and take appropriate steps to manage the condition. Regardless of your COVID status, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes in adults between the ages of 35 and 70 who are overweight or obese. Early detection and treatment are important to help prevent complications and maintain good health.
How long can COVID diabetes last?
The good news is that for many people who develop diabetes after COVID, their condition resolves once the illness subsides.
In a study out of Harvard Medical School, researchers looked at 594 patients admitted to Mass General during the peak of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 and displayed signs of diabetes. Upon follow-up after hospital discharge, the researchers discovered that nearly half of the participants returned to normal blood sugar levels. Only 8% of the individuals needed insulin treatment 1 year after their discharge. ref5
This is similar to how diabetes can temporarily develop during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes, and then resolve itself after birth. However, researchers caution that those affected by COVID diabetes are at a higher risk of developing actual type 2 diabetes later in life. 5
Unfortunately, when it comes to type 1 and type 2 diabetes, there’s currently no cure. However, proper treatment and lifestyle changes can effectively manage the condition.
How can you treat diabetes COVID?
If you suspect that you have COVID diabetes, it’s essential to contact your doctor right away. Patients with diabetes with developing symptoms of COVID-19 infection are at higher risk of adverse outcomes.
Diagnosing diabetes and prediabetes can be done by your physician through the use of blood tests. These tests reveal whether your blood glucose, commonly referred to as blood sugar, is above the normal and healthy range for you. Furthermore, blood tests can assist in determining the type of diabetes that you have.
- Frequent glucose monitoring. Consistent monitoring of glucose levels allows patients to see any abnormal jumps in their numbers.
- Healthy diet. Patients with diabetes should strive to maintain balanced eating that normalizes sugar levels.
- Adequate hydration. Staying hydrated enables glucose to be flushed out of the blood.
- Glucose lowering agents. This class of drugs can block or show the breakdown of sugars and starches, thereby reducing the amount of sugar in the blood.
- Immunomodulators. These drugs can stimulate or suppress the immune system and may help the body fight diseases.
- Antiviral therapies. These medications are used to stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus cell cycle and slow down disease progression.
A growing body of evidence links COVID-19 with the development of new diabetes cases. It remains uncertain, however, whether the virus is merely uncovering pre-existing diabetes or actually causing the onset of new cases. Given the potential connection between COVID and diabetes, individuals exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus should be evaluated for diabetes.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19-related diabetes?
A: The most common symptoms associated with COVID-19-related diabetes include frequent urination, extreme thirst, fatigue, blurred vision, weight loss or gain, recurring skin infections, slow-healing wounds, and tingling in the extremities. If these symptoms persist for over a few days, seeking medical attention as soon as possible is important.
Q: What can I do if I think I have COVID-19-related diabetes?
A: If you suspect that you may have COVID-19-related diabetes, it's crucial to seek medical care right away. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and determine the best course of treatment.
Q: Are there any long-term complications associated with COVID-19- related diabetes?
A: If left untreated, diabetes COVID can result in serious long-term complications such as kidney failure, nerve damage, and eye problems. To reduce the risk of these complications, working closely with your healthcare team to manage your blood sugar levels is essential. Additionally, it's important to maintain healthy habits, including eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress levels.
Q: Can I still get vaccinated for COVID-19 if I have diabetes?
A: Yes, it’s safe to get the vaccine if you have diabetes.
Q: Is there any way to prevent developing COVID-19-related diabetes?
A: There is no surefire way to prevent the development of COVID-19-related diabetes, but following a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, managing stress levels, and avoiding smoking can reduce the chances of developing diabetes or its complications.
Q: What should I do if I think I have symptoms of COVID-19-related diabetes?
A: If you experience any of the signs and symptoms listed above, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and determine the best course of treatment.
Q: Does COVID-19 cause diabetes?
COVID is not known to cause diabetes directly. However, studies have found a link between COVID-19 and an increased risk of developing diabetes or having diabetes complications. Inflammation caused by the COVID virus can damage organs like the pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin. This damage can lead to insulin resistance and a subsequent increase in blood sugar levels, which can result in diabetes.
Q: How to control blood sugar after COVID?
After recovering from COVID-19, it’s crucial to monitor your blood sugar levels closely if you have diabetes or are at risk of developing diabetes. You should also take action to control your blood sugar by eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting adequate sleep, taking your medications, and monitoring your blood sugar levels.