• Ann Falco

How COVID-19 Affects People with Diabetes

Updated: Jul 21, 2021


Scientists are still learning about COVID-19 and how this virus affects certain populations, especially those individuals with diabetes. One factor that is known is that people with diabetes seem to develop a more severe COVID disease.


The Mayo Clinic explains that people with diabetes are not necessarily more prone to COVID, but if they do develop COVID, the disease is much more severe and seems to progress quicker. This fact seems to happen both with Type 2 and Type 1 diabetes, and both seem to be prone to more severe disease, though Type 1 patients may do better because they are generally younger in age. In Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune reaction attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This is caused by inherited genetics or environmental elements. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin and is often associated with genetics and lifestyle choices.


The CDC reports that adults with underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, are more likely to get severely ill if diagnosed with COVID-19. Severe illness suggests that a person with COVID-19 may require medical treatment, hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to assist with breathing.


According to the CDC, long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many populations at greater risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19, including several racial and ethnic minority groups and individuals with disabilities. People in minority groups are often younger when they develop chronic (prolonged) medical conditions and may be more likely to have more than one negative health condition. Moreover, the CDC mentions that individuals with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to have chronic health conditions, live in congregate (group) settings, and face more barriers to healthcare. The research suggests that some people with certain disabilities are more likely to get COVID-19 and have worse health outcomes.


The research suggests that people with diabetes are more likely to have serious complications from COVID-19. However, the risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 is likely to be lower if your diabetes is well-managed. Having heart disease, high cholesterol, or other complications in addition to diabetes could worsen the chance of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, like other viral infections, because more than one condition makes it harder for the body to fight the infection.


Viral infections can also increase inflammation, or internal swelling, in people with diabetes. Inflammation is often caused by elevated or high blood sugar (glucose) levels. Diabetics tend to have more inflammation in the body, and with COVID, the inflammatory state gets worse much more quickly. Prolonged inflammation could contribute to more severe complications and long-term negative health effects including circulatory issues, kidney issues, vision problems, and nerve disorders.


Researchers have also noted that diabetics with COVID have an increased risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is a serious complication of diabetes that occurs when the body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones. This condition develops when the body cannot produce enough insulin. DKA can make it challenging to manage fluid intake and electrolyte levels, which is extremely important in managing sepsis. Sepsis and septic shock are the more serious complications that some people with COVID-19 have experienced. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's response to an infection damages its own internal tissues and organs.


As we continue to progress through the pandemic, new information and data about COVID-19 become available. Currently, the CDC is reporting that people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Based on the available data at this time, people with type 1 or gestational diabetes might be at an increased risk for severe illness and long-term complications from COVID-19. It is important to remember that people with either type of diabetes can vary in age, complications they have developed and how well they have been able to care and manage their diabetes. Individuals who already have diabetes-related health problems are likely to have worse outcomes if they contract COVID-19 than people with diabetes who are otherwise healthy.


The CDC stresses the importance of preventive measures for COVID-19, including vaccination, wearing a mask, and social distancing. These factors are important especially in older individuals or people that have multiple or severe health conditions. It is also recommended to get an annual flu shot and pneumonia vaccine. Patients with diabetes should aim to prioritize care and management of the condition with well-controlled blood sugar levels, a healthy diet, and physical activity. A well-maintained condition could help to control and fight against a viral infection and reduce the overall severity of long-term complications.


Speaking Plainly:

· People with diabetes are not necessarily more prone to COVID, but if they do develop COVID, the disease is much more severe and seems to progress quicker. Diabetics are more likely to have serious complications from COVID-19. However, the risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 is likely to be lower if your diabetes is well-managed and cared for.


· Diabetics might be at an increased risk for severe illness and long-term complications from COVID-19. The CDC stresses the importance of preventive measures for COVID-19, including vaccination, wearing a mask and social distancing.


· Viral infections can increase inflammation, or internal swelling, in people with diabetes. Inflammation is often caused by elevated or high blood sugar (glucose) levels. Diabetics tend to have more inflammation in the body, and with COVID, the inflammatory state gets worse much more quickly.


· Diabetics with COVID have an increased risk of diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a serious complication that occurs when the body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones. This condition can make it challenging to manage fluid intake and electrolyte levels, which is extremely important in managing sepsis.


· Patients with diabetes should aim to prioritize care and management of the condition with controlled blood sugar levels, a healthy diet, and physical activity.