Diabetes and COVID: Exploring the Connection

by Angela Kendall

Image Attribution: iStock.com/Shivendu Jauhari

This is the first in a series of posts about getting back to good health during the pandemic.

What happens if a diabetic gets COVID?

We’re not going to sugar-coat it. COVID can simply be much worse on diabetes patients than the general population. But we’re here to help dispel some myths and give you some truths: 

Diabetics are more likely to get COVID: Myth

There appears to be no indication that people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting the SARS-CoV-2 infection.

COVID is fatal for diabetics: Myth, but…

Among hospitalized patients with diabetes, an American Diabetes Association journal compiling data from multiple studies documents case fatalities at around 25%, which is 100-250% higher than the population of those without diabetes. So, the risk of fatality is higher in diabetics, but COVID is not necessarily fatal to all with the condition.

COVID can trigger diabetes: Myth

According to a publication from the American Diabetes Association, to date there is no convincing evidence that SARS-CoV-2 exacerbates or induces persistent diabetes, as was first thought due to a small initial report early in the pandemic. Data reported from later in the pandemic did not confirm this observation.

Someone with diabetes can recover from COVID: Truth, with caveats

The question may be better phrased: can someone with diabetes fully recover from COVID? While diabetes is a key predictor of poor COVID outcomes–including an increased need for intensive care and increased chance of dying from the disease–around 75% of people with diabetes who are hospitalized for COVID do recover and are well enough to be released. However, the long-term effects of COVID on diabetes patients, as with the general population, are still being studied. 

COVID has made diabetes worse: Truth, but not for the reasons you might think.

COVID has definitely made routine diabetes care and management and improvements in patients much harder. But it’s not the SARS-CoV-2 infection that makes those with diabetes have worsening diabetes symptoms. Rather, it is the everyday stressors of pandemic living that have had a dramatic negative impact on those who already have or are predisposed to diabetes. And that’s the big problem.

The BIG problem? The toll of pandemic living.

As highlighted in this study, the toll taken by pandemic living has made diabetes worse. By that measure, it’s accurate to say that the presence of COVID in people’s lives has made diabetes worse. 

The study identified nine routine healthcare activities that the COVID-19 pandemic has made harder. They are: 

Lockdown of standard outpatient clinics

Decreased capacity for inpatients

Staff shortages

Medicine shortages

Unaffordable medicine 

Delayed care-seeking

Limited self-care practices

Transport difficulties

Undiagnosed cases

Already a crucial public health issue, diabetes is a chronic condition that requires ongoing healthcare management. Take away routine healthcare that’s more easily available outside pandemic conditions, and the management gets that much more difficult. Add in genuine lifestyle disruptions like a lack of availability of healthy food, limited access to routine care because of increased burdens on healthcare resources, reduced self-care due to stress, reduced incomes, caring for others, and more, then the issue of diabetes management becomes an epidemic.

“We have observed that most people have become more sedentary and have developed terrible habits as a result of pandemic living. They’ve also put off medical care. This has a dramatic effect on people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Chronic patients are much sicker than before.”

Stephanie Hunter, 26Health Medical Director

Take action: 26Health can help

To reverse any negative health impact your diabetes can have when you get COVID or, to reduce the impact of COVID living on your diabetes, you must take action. 

26Health can help you make good decisions on ways to improve your diabetes numbers with behavioral modification and medication. Medications like Ozempic®, for example, help with weight loss and, as a result, lower A1C numbers. “We are seeing sugars come down from the 300s to ranges of 110-140,” says Hunter.