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COVID-19: Can It Cause Diabetes?

As COVID-19 spread around the world, what was originally thought to be a highly infectious respiratory illness became much more. Doctors began to see that in addition to the lungs, coronavirus could damage the heart and kidneys, and cause blood-clotting, neurological problems and other long-term issues. Now, some physicians think COVID-19 could trigger diabetes in patients with no history of the disease.

Experts at Baptist Health saythere’s no need to panic that you’ll develop diabetes if you’ve had COVID-19.But they suggest that your blood sugar be monitored during and after recovery infollow-up visits with your physicians.

“It’s common during any serious illness or trauma for the body to react by raising blood sugar, causing hyperglycemia,” said endocrinologist Herberto Valdes, M.D., with Baptist Health Medical Group. “But severe COVID has been associated with diabetes mellitus and worsening glucose control. The virus attaches to ACE2 receptors, which are present in pancreatic cells.”

Researchers are trying to determine if these patients developed hyperglycemia due to a stress response associated with severe illness, or if the damage in the pancreas led to insulin deficiency.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when thebody suddenly stops producing insulin, a hormone that regulates glucose, orsugar, in the blood. Type 2 diabetes usually comes on over time and can be theresult of an inactive lifestyle and poor eating habits. No matter the type ofdiabetes a person has, it can lead to long-term health problems such as heartand kidney disease, vision loss and other complications.

Reports of the link betweenCOVID-19 and diabetes first came from physicians outside of the United States,who noticed that a small number of hospitalized patients with no known historyof diabetes seemed to suddenly develop the disease.

Those affected appeared to havetype 1 diabetes at first and were given insulin injections. Over time, however,some patients experienced improvement and were able to control their bloodsugar with the oral medications most commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes. Acombination of the two types is puzzling, the physicians say.

In a letter published in The NewEngland Journal of Medicine, the doctors wrote: “These manifestations ofdiabetes pose challenges in clinical management and suggest a complexpathophysiology of COVID-19-related diabetes.” As a result of theirobservations, the doctors created a registry that will allow physicians aroundthe world to upload information about COVID-19 patients with abnormal bloodsugar levels. They hope this will help them understand how common the phenomenonis, as well as lead to solutions.

The doctors also recommend testing if you have any symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent urination, weight loss for no apparent reason, excessive thirst, blurry vision or other problems. For a more complete list of symptoms, check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here. And for risk factors, click here.

From the start of the pandemic, therehave been warnings that people with underlying health conditions are moresusceptible to COVID-19. If you have diabetes, it does not mean you are morelikely to get COVID-19, Dr. Valdes explained. “However, it does mean that ifyou do get COVID-19, you are at a higher risk of having a more severe case ormore complications,” he said.

Drs. Valdes says that further research into COVID-19-related diabetes is warranted as it may help doctors better identify patients who may be predisposed to the condition, as well as develop possible treatments.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.