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Complications from Diabetes and COVID-19

October 26, 2020
Published in: COVID-19, Diabetes

Man with diabetes checking his blood sugar

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States, more research has been published regarding devastating outcomes for diabetic patients who get the disease. As of October 26, 2020, there have been 6,710 reported cases of COVID-19 in our local Central Shenandoah Health District, which includes Waynesboro, Harrisonburg, and Staunton. Information on how many of those cases were in diabetic patients is not currently available.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus. It spreads from person-to-person through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. The elderly population and those with the following underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes, specifically type 1
  • Chronic respiratory disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity

Not everyone infected with COVID-19 will experience symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, dry cough, and lethargy. Serious, but more uncommon, symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain, and loss of speech or movement. It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show once an individual is infected.

COVID-19 prevention includes washing your hands often with warm soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, social distancing of at least six feet, wearing a mask when around others, and monitoring for symptoms.

Diabetes and COVID-19

Currently, there is not enough evidence to say that individuals with diabetes are more likely to become infected with the virus, but there is evidence to suggest that individuals with diabetes have a higher chance of developing severe complications from the virus. Patients with diabetes are six times more likely to be hospitalized. Individuals with uncontrolled diabetes are at an increased risk for developing serious symptoms compared to individuals whose diabetes is well-managed.

Current Research

Research has focused on diabetes and COVID-19 because of reports of poor outcomes for diabetic patients. The mortality (death) rate for people with COVID-19 and diabetes is three times higher than that of the overall population. Additionally, patients with diabetes are more likely to require treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU). So, how does having diabetes negatively impact outcomes for COVID-19? Having high blood sugar weakens the immune system and makes it less able to fight off infections. Age, sex, ethnicity, and having additional medical conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, and obesity also contributes to increased risk of poorer outcomes. Therefore, the diabetic population needs to be more attentive to self-protection protocols. The American Diabetes Association recommends the following for diabetic patients:

  • Practicing physical distancing
  • Frequent handwashing
  • Keeping an adequate supply of diabetic medications (insulin or oral medications)
  • Keeping an adequate supply of blood sugar testing supplies
  • Keeping an adequate supply of glucagon and ketone strips, in case of lows and highs
  • Self-monitoring for symptoms

Overall, more research is needed to know exactly how COVID-19 affects diabetics and what treatments could be more effective. So far, most research studies have been published on the Chinese population and not on those in the United States. For now, health care professionals follow treatment protocols developed by their facilities for COVID-19 patients with diabetes.