COVID-19 causing diabetes among some severely infected patients, studies find

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When Craig Spanz continued to have headaches after contracting COVID-19 in March, he thought he was experiencing some prolonged COVID symptoms. The Vancouver resident was expected to tell her doctor how to deal with her persistent headache, but instead she was diagnosed with diabetes.

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“It was like two weeks after COVID-19 officially ended, when I found out I had diabetes,” said SpongeBob.

As new forms of anxiety emerge, there is an increasing certainty among medical experts that the virus may also be the cause of diabetes. Two studies supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found in the United States that COVID-19 was causing severe damage to beta cells in the pancreas, limiting how much insulin could be made. If there is a deficiency of insulin, the blood sugar level will rise, which can result in diabetes.


“The virus can directly damage the cells that produce insulin, which is the main key to controlling glucose, so the less insulin, the less glucose control,” said endocrinologist Dr. Remi Rabasa from the University of Montreal.

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There are at least two other ways in which the virus can cause damage inside the human body leading to diabetes. If infected with COVID-19, the virus can replicate in other cells that surround the pancreas and beta cells. The virus can also cause cells to malfunction so that they are no longer able to control blood properly.

Forty-nine-year-old SpongeBob admitted he had some markers for pre-diabetes, but said his bout with COVID-19 was terrifying. As a result he was admitted to the hospital as he experienced difficulty in breathing, severe chest pain and loss of sensation in his extremities.

What Spanz was describing is a serious infection that, Rabasa said, “can limit insulin’s ability to function in tissues,” and “is one of several ways by which COVID-19 triggers diabetes.” Can do.”

A September 15 study published on found that elevated blood glucose levels were common in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Patients require longer hospital stays and are at higher risk of “developing acute respiratory distress syndrome and increased mortality”.

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Study researchers concluded that hyperglycemia, a spike in blood sugar levels caused by COVID-19, was disrupting fat cells’ production of adiponectin, a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels. does.

Rabasa, who also works at the Center Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, said he is seeing more patients dealing with COVID-19 display worsening cases of hyperglycemia. He added that “there is evidence that short-term COVID causes diabetes.”

He added that we may only see high blood sugar for a short time, which means that while some people may not get diabetes right away, the effects on their beta cells and tissue damage may be long-lasting and for them to occur. Can make you more sensitive. it later.

Research at Harvard Medical School found that almost half of 551 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Italy became hyperglycemic. Patients were followed for six months after the initial infection, and the researchers found that hyperglycemia persisted in about 35 percent of people.

Experts say that the concern is not just that patients are contracting diabetes from COVID, but that anyone who is already suffering from diabetes who gets COVID is at higher risk. a scottish study found that people who already had type 1 or type 2 diabetes were already at higher risk of having a worse outcome if they were infected with COVID-19.

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“The overall risk of fatal or critical care unit-treated COVID-19 was significantly increased in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes compared to the background population,” the study said.

While infection may be one of the concerns resulting from diabetes, Rabasa said that COVID-19 also has an indirect effect on how a person can become diabetic. He noted that “lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyles”, which have resulted from the pandemic, where more people are restricted to stay at home, may also contribute to it.

“If you’ve been less active, aren’t eating as well as you’d like, COVID is causing you stress to eat into your emotions, those things exacerbate type 2 diabetes,” he said.

It has been 100 years since the discovery of insulin, a medical advance that has allowed people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels at all times. Despite leaps in medicine and the understanding that exercise and good nutrition can help stave off diabetes, according to Dr. Seema Nagpal, vice president of science and policy in diabetes, “more people with newly diagnosed diabetes are coming forward.” trend”. Canada.

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“It is a concern that we are already seeing very high rates of diabetes and this could be another contributing factor,” she said.

2020 Analysis by McMaster University found that among patients with severe COVID-19, about 15 percent developed diabetes. The study authors noted that some people may be at risk for diabetes even before they contract the virus.,

Nagpal said no data has been collected about the current rate of diabetes in Canada since the pandemic began. As a result, she said Diabetes Canada cannot confirm that a potential spike in diabetes rates is directly attributable to COVID-19.

A New York-based study A study of hospitalized patients at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and affiliated campuses of Queens and Lower Manhattan Hospital found that 49.7 percent of the 3,864 patients diagnosed between March 1, 2020 and May 15, 2020 had There was hyperglycemia.

While a staggering nearly half of patients with hyperglycemia are diagnosed, that number rose to “91.1% and 72.8% in intubated and deceased patients,” the researchers found. The hospital stay for people with hyperglycemia was 10 days, compared to five days without.

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