Note: Please see our post “What Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Coronavirus (COVID-19)” for more information about COVID-19 prevention and symptoms, and for guidance on what you should do if you think you may have the virus.
Risks of Catching COVID-19 vs. Risks of Complications
As far as we currently know, anyone can contract COVID-19 and anyone can have its most severe and life-threatening symptoms. However, some groups of people do seem to be more susceptible, such as older adults and people with compromised immune symptoms. If you or someone you love is diabetic, you may have heard that diabetes puts people at greater risk, and you’re probably wondering what you can do to lower that risk. You might only be wondering does diabetes make COVID-19 more dangerous?
COVID-19 is still a very new virus, and we’re learning more about it every day. However, the best research we have available today suggests that people with diabetes are not more likely to contract COVID-19, but they are more likely to experience the disease’s more serious symptoms and life-threatening complications.
Managing Your Risks
Whether you are diabtetic or not, the most important thing you can do is take proper precautions to avoid exposing yourself to the virus. Disciplined social distancing and quality personal protective equipment can greatly reduce your risk of exposure, but they won’t completely eliminate the possibility that you will catch COVID-19.
Fortunately, a recent preliminary study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that you can lower your risk of severe complications by managing your blood sugar levels well. The study looked at hospitalized patients in China who had type 2 diabetes and a positive test for COVID-19. Those whose blood glucose levels were well controlled during their hospitalization were significantly less likely to develop life-threatening complications. Most strikingly, 11.0% of those with poorly managed blood sugar died while in the hospital, compared to 1.1% of those with well managed blood sugar.
As the authors acknowledge, there are several limitations to this study. It looked only at type 2 diabetes patients, and only at COVID-19 patients who had to be hospitalized. We don’t know how well they managed their blood sugar before or after being hospitalized. We don’t know their long-term health outcomes. And of course, if you are hospitalized, much of the responsibility for managing your blood sugar will be taken on by the hospital.
But we do know that hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can harm your immune system, making you more susceptible to all kinds of infections. It also increases your risk of heart attacks, stroke, and other serious health problems.
If you contract COVID-19, there’s good reason to believe that carefully monitoring and managing your blood sugar could help save your life. You or the hospital will have to monitor it more frequently than normal, because the disease may put your body under unusual levels of stress. The disease may also put you at greater risk of diabetes complications, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
Even if you don’t catch the virus, good blood sugar monitoring is more important than ever for continued good health. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to manage your blood sugar well.
What You Can Do
Now is a good time to reassess how you currently manage your blood sugar and take steps to improve. Hopefully, much of the advice below is already part of your practice, but take a good look and examine how you can do better. Also consider asking your doctor for advice, especially if you’re struggling to manage your blood sugar effectively.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the following practices will help you manage your blood sugar and live a healthy life with diabetes:
- Check your blood sugar levels regularly — with a blood glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor — as directed by your doctor.
- Take diabetes medications and insulin as prescribed and directed by your doctor.
- Have your A1C tested regularly to assess your average long-term blood sugar levels.
- Check your blood pressure regularly and talk with your doctor if it’s high.
- Have your cholesterol levels tested regularly, and talk with your doctor if your numbers are outside the healthy range.
- Quit smoking (or don’t ever start).
- If you are overweight, ask your doctor how you can work safely toward a healthier weight.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Exercise regularly and try to live a more active lifestyle.
- See your primary care doctor at least twice a year, and more frequently if you’re having trouble managing your diabetes.
Better Health Beyond the Crisis
While we don’t know for certain that managing your blood sugar well will lower your risks with COVID-19, we have good reason to believe that it might. And we know that these practices will help you live a healthier life, now and long after the current health crisis has passed. So whether you do it to protect yourself from COVID-19’s worst complications or to work toward a better long-term quality of life, we hope you’ll consider how you can live well with diabetes.
Call your primary care doctor or any United Physician Group Family Medicine practice if you’d like some help or want more information on does diabetes make COVID-19 more dangerous.