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How Does COVID-19 Affect Diabetics?

Infectious diseases such as COVID-19 are more serious in people with diabetes, according to the CDC.
Infectious diseases such as COVID-19 are more serious in people with diabetes, according to the CDC. Photo Credit: CareMount Medical

Infectious diseases such as COVID-19 are more serious in people with diabetes, according to the CDC. Why is this? 1) The immune system of diabetics does not function as well, which makes it harder for their bodies to fight the virus; and 2) the coronavirus appears to thrive in an environment of elevated blood glucose levels which makes the healing response to any infection slower. High blood sugar levels combined with a persistent state of inflammation make it much more difficult for people with diabetes to recover from illnesses such as COVID-19.

Anyone with diabetes who notices symptoms of COVID-19 (fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, cough, shortness of breath or trouble breathing) should speak to his/her provider as soon as possible. At CareMount Medical, we are seeing patients in the office and using virtual visits so patients can see their own personal, trusted providers online. After a virtual visit, your provider can decide if you need to come in for an appointment based on your symptoms, medical history and needs. If you are scheduled for any in-office medical testing, it is necessary to continue with your appointment without delay.

Your risk of getting very ill from COVID-19 is likely to be lower if your diabetes is well-controlled. Having heart disease or other complications in addition to diabetes could worsen the chance of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 since your body’s ability to fight off an infection is compromised.

Preventative Actions:

  • Avoid people who are sick or who have been exposed to the virus.
  • Clean your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth, and nose.
  • Wear a face mask when you leave your home.
  • Avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public—use a tissue, glove or sleeve to touch them if necessary.

Be Prepared:

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, take the following action steps to prepare and reduce your risk of infection:

  • Have up-to-date supplies and prescriptions of your diabetes devices and medications. Stock up on insulin supplies, glucose testing supplies, ketone test strips, glucose tablets, and up-to-date prescriptions.
  • Ask your doctor how often to check blood glucose levels.
  • Continue taking ACE inhibitors and ARBs as directed. If you take ACE inhibitors or ARBs for high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes, keep taking them unless your physician recommends otherwise. There was a controversial report saying that these drugs might make people more susceptible to COVID-19, but there is no evidence that this is true. In fact, the American Heart Association and other major associations recommend their use.
  • Be prepared if you do get sick. Keep a supply of fever-reducing medications, like acetaminophen, and cough syrup in your home.

Diabetes and a COVID Diagnosis

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and you are diabetic, follow your provider’s advice diligently. Ask your doctor for instructions on how to watch your blood sugar and adjust for changes.

In addition, check your blood sugar more frequently and contact your doctor if it stays above 240 mg/dL. If you have type 1 diabetes and your blood sugar rises above 240, you could be at risk for ketoacidosis, which occurs when the body burns fat for energy and creates high levels of blood acids, known as ketones. Eventually these ketones can poison the body. During the coronavirus outbreak, it’s especially important to keep your ketone levels down and avoid trips to the emergency room, when possible.

Overall, having diabetes does put you at risk for COVID-19 complications so do your best to avoid getting sick and needing care at the hospital.

For all of us, routines have been disrupted, therefore it’s so important to get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals, and exercise within your ability. Keep in mind that your mental health can also have an impact on your blood sugar levels. Make time to do the things you love, and stay connected to friends and family. This is a unique period in our lives. We’ll get through it together.

To schedule an in-person visit with your CareMount provider, click here.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention