People who test positive for COVID-19 have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers say. Westend61/Getty Images
- Researchers report that people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing more serious COVID-19 symptoms.
- They also report that people who have had COVID-19 have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Experts say the two conditions are connected because they have similar underlying conditions.
- They say people who’ve had COVID-19 can lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing excess weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting sufficient exercise.
COVID-19 and diabetes can create a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, diabetes can increase your risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.
On the other hand, contracting COVID-19 can increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes for up to a year after recovery, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.
Researchers report those study participants who had COVID-19 were 40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than a control group, even those with no prior risk factors for diabetes. The likelihood grew for people who had serious COVID-19 symptoms that required hospitalization or intensive care.
The researchers looked at data from people from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The scientists compared people who had COVID-19 to those who did not develop the disease within the same period. The results indicated that 1 to 2 percent of people with COVID-19 develop diabetes.
While this may sound like a small fraction of people, the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States makes it problematic. With more than 80 million cases in the U.S., between 800,000 and 1.6 million people could develop type 2 diabetes that may not have had the condition otherwise.
These are sobering numbers, but the other side of the sword is also troubling experts.
A 2021 study reports that 30 to 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths occur in people with diabetes. In a March 2022 report, researchers said that people with diabetes are also more likely to need intensive care and are more likely to be intubated. In addition, people with diabetes are more likely to die than people without diabetes.
Why the connection?
Scientists aren’t sure exactly why COVID-19 and diabetes are so closely linked.
One theory is that people with diabetes are more likely to have underlying conditions associated with more serious COVID-19 cases. The conditions include heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Diabetes can also impair the immune system.
Viral infections, including COVID-19, can increase inflammation, according to the American Diabetes Association. Chronic inflammation can then increase insulin resistance and weaken the immune system.
“The inflammatory response from a COVID-19 infection and the cytokine storm it induces as a necessary response to ward off the effects of the virus is like a smart bomb that affects many different organ systems. It is in part what makes COVID-19 such a challenging condition,” Dr. Joseph E. Barrera, an endocrinologist at Providence Mission Hospital in California, told Healthline.
“COVID-19 and the cytokine storm that it induces can accelerate a progression to diabetes that otherwise would have taken years or perhaps never have happened,” he added.
What you can do
“One of the most critical elements to consider is not delaying getting care for your medical condition because of COVID-19,” Dr. Joseph Iser, a regent-at-large for the American College of Preventative Medicine, told Healthline.
“If you had COVID-19 within the past year, it is important to monitor your health,” he added. “So many of us have put off routine appointments, screenings, and immunizations during the pandemic, and now is the time to get back into preventive care. Be sure you are up to date with wellness check-ups, bloodwork, and vaccinations,”
You can still take steps to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after you recover from COVID-19, explains Iser. These include:
· Losing extra weight.
· Becoming more physically active.
· Easing healthy foods.
· Routine screening with diagnostic tests for diabetes.
Looking at long COVID
The term “long COVID” refers to symptoms that appear after you recover from the disease.
Sometimes the symptoms appear weeks after initial recovery. Long COVID can occur in anyone whether their symptoms were severe, mild, or even if they didn’t have any symptoms.
“Long COVID is more common in women than men. It is also more common in people who had asthma before contracting COVID-19, suggesting that immune responses could contribute to the condition. Poor physical or mental health before infection also increases the risk of developing long-term effects,” Dr. Sri Banerjee, a member of the faculty at Walden University’s School of Health Sciences in Minnesota, told Healthline.
Common symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, and muscle pain. Some people experience digestive issues, shortness of breath, sleep problems, chest pain, changes in taste and smell, and mood changes.
Researchers reported in the recent study reported that diabetes can also be a symptom of long COVID.
An important note
“The population represented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration data does not represent the U.S. population as a whole,” said Dr. Kathleen Wyne, an endocrinologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“This analysis, while well written and researched, can only be applied to people who fit the baseline characteristics of the study cohort. Specifically, a 61-year-old white man who is overweight with a BMI of 29,” she told Healthline.
She also pointed out that 2 percent of study participants who had COVID-19 developed diabetes, meaning 98 percent did not.
About 80 percent of people experience only mild symptoms and fully recover from COVID-19 without residual signs or problems. Between 10 and 20 percent of people with COVID-19 experience mid-term or long-term effects.