What COVID-19 means for people with diabetes

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The CDC and World Health Organization have both found that people with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for experiencing more serious complications from the new coronavirus and are at a higher risk for death. 

Three major conditions they have highlighted are heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. 

According to the American Diabetes Association, there were 34.2 million Americans with diabetes in 2018. Nearly 1.6 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease.

There is some good news for people with diabetes during this COVID-19 outbreak: Diabetics are not more likely to get COVID-19, the problem lies with the seriousness of the virus once infected. 

The ADA said in China, people with diabetes had higher rates of serious complications and death than people with the virus who do not have diabetes. However, there are some ways to reduce this risk. 

“If diabetes is well managed, the risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19 is about the same as the general population,” according to the ADA.

Diabetes that is not managed well can increase the risk for diabetes-related complications, one of which could be heart disease — another condition listed by the CDC and WHO as creating a higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19. 

The ADA also says viral infections, like the new coronavirus, increase inflammation, which also happens when your blood sugar is higher than your target, contributing further to a higher risk for complications. 

People with diabetes, both type 1 and 2, have a higher risk for diabetic ketoacidosis when ill with a viral infection, or DKA — a life-threatening issue that can cause the blood to become too acidic. This happens when blood sugar levels are significantly too high. If a diabetic person is in DKA, that can make it harder to avoid sepsis and septic shock, which, according to the ADA, “are some of the more serious complications that some people with COVID-19 have experienced.” 

Many health experts don’t believe there is any different risk for people with type 1 versus type 2; age and how well diabetes is controlled affects the risk most. 

COVID-19 is much more serious than the seasonal flu, and precautions to avoid it should be followed more strictly by people with diabetes, like washing your hands and avoiding close contact with people who are coughing or sneezing. 

During this ongoing outbreak, it can help to have your doctor’s phone number ready to go, as well as your insurance company’s. The ADA suggests having a full supply of your diabetes supplies, and to try and request a 3-month prescription from your insurance company if you don’t already have one. 

If you are prone to low blood sugar, have simple carbohydrates ready to go like juice, candy or popsicles. Also, double-check that your emergency low blood sugar glucagon pen is not expired.

If you get sick, call your endocrinologist as soon as you can for coronavirus testing or advice on how to manage your diabetes while ill.

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