In a new study, researchers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs examined medical records for over 180,000 adults who had evidence of COVID infection and compared them with a similar large number who had not had COVID, and another control group from 2017 before the COVID pandemic began. The researchers compared rates of diabetes and/or an HbA1c over 6.4% or prescription for glucose-lowering medication over 12 months.

COVID may raise diabetes risk

Compared to the controls, people with COVID had greater risk of diabetes and need for glucose-lowering medicines. Increased risk was seen in people who did not need to be hospitalized for COVID, and was much greater in those who were hospitalized. COVID and diabetes were linked across age, sex, race, body mass index (BMI), diabetes risk score, steroid use, and deprivation scores. However, the study population was mostly white and male. Further, socioeconomic factors from COVID were not considered.

Does COVID damage cells that produce insulin?

More studies are needed to find out why COVID is associated with diabetes, including the role of viral load and immune response. Some suggest that the virus that causes COVID may infect the pancreas, damaging cells that control insulin release. Other ideas include damage to the autonomic nervous system or a low-grade inflammation.

In sum, people who develop COVID may be at higher risk of developing diabetes within 12 months of the infection. It may be helpful to screen for type 2 diabetes in people who get COVID.


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