Some doctors suspect the coronavirus may damage the pancreas, the gland that makes insulin which is needed to convert blood sugar into energy, giving people diabetes.
Doctors also say that sedentary lifestyles brought on by lockdowns could also be playing a role, as might late diagnoses after people avoided doctors’ offices. Even some children’s mild coronavirus cases can be followed by the swift onset of diabetes, scientists found.
Researchers who measured the effect in the U.S. based on evidence from the national healthcare databases of the Department of Veterans Affairs found that COVID survivors were about 39% more likely to have a new diabetes diagnosis in the six months after infection than non-infected users of the VA health system.
The risk works out to about 6.5 additional diabetes cases for every 1,000 Covid patients who don’t end up in the hospital. For those who do, the probability jumps to 37 per 1,000 — and it’s even higher for patients who required intensive care.
New cases of diabetes could be the result of inflammation and insulin problems related to COVID-19, according to researchers from several universities including McMaster University in Canada.
Another research study shows that almost 50,000 hospitalized COVID patients in England found that they were 50% more likely to have diabetes some 20 weeks after discharge than matched controls.
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COVID-19 might be enough to worsen existing metabolic health issues into full-blown, according to Dr. Jose Aleman, assistant professor of endocrinology at NYU Langone Health.
“Stressful conditions lead to elevated levels of regulatory hormones that raise blood sugar to aid the body in fighting whatever insult it’s facing, such as illness or injury,” Aleman told Insider.
“For people with underlying conditions, that can be enough to kick them over the edge.”
It’s not clear whether diabetes could be a permanent side effect of coronavirus infection.
According to Aleman, the best theory we currently have is that COVID-19 can cause the immune system to overreact and destroy some of the body’s own cells while fighting the virus.
Aleman also advises patients to get treated for any symptoms as soon as possible. People with underlying conditions such as obesity and high blood sugar now as preventative measures.
“It’s hard to treat when you’re already sick and in the hospital, and this is a motivation to treat those conditions now,” he said.
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