Dr. Mersad Alimoradi 05 Aug 2020

COVID-19 is a serious virus that has wreaked havoc worldwide since early 2020.  Up to the writing of this article, health authorities have declared more than 18 million infected individuals worldwide with more than 600 thousand fatalities.

Even though the virus does not seem more likely to infect diabetics, people with diabetes appear to be at higher risk of developing more serious complications.

What causes COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus (which is a family of viruses) that has emerged in late 2019. Coronaviruses can cause a wide variety of infections, ranging from a mild illness like the common flue to more deadly respiratory diseases like the SARS outbreak in 2003, which had lead to the death of more than 9% of those infected.

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) can infect people of all ages, and usually causes mild symptoms in the majority of infected individuals. These symptoms can resemble the common flu symptoms experienced during flu seasons, such as fever, cough, fatigue, and muscle pains. However, this is not always the case. Many people who get infected will have a more serious illness, where the virus can lead to respiratory failure, shock, organ failure, and even death.

Some specific populations seem to be more likely to develop these serious complications. People with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes, hypertension, and lung disease) are especially at risk.

What are the main symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms can vary in type and severity between different individuals, however, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 infection are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Other less common symptoms include body aches, fatigue, sore throat, headache, among others.  

Why should people with diabetes be more concerned?

As already mentioned, people with diabetes are more likely to develop serious complications if they contract COVID-19. This is, however, also true to other viral infections in diabetics and not just COVID-19.

Studies have shown that people with diabetes are more likely to require hospitalization and intensive care when they get infected, and researchers in China have found that diabetics are three times more likely to lose their life from COVID-19 when compared to other patients.

Why are diabetics more vulnerable?

People with diabetes usually have a less-than-ideal immune system, making them more vulnerable to the ill effects of different infectious diseases. Uncontrolled blood sugar can impair the immune response and prevent host immune cells from properly responding to invading pathogens. This means that even if you do have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar levels under control is important for preventing such risks.

Many diabetics also have other related medical conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and obesity. Obesity and diabetes are tightly related, and diabetics who are also obese are in even greater danger. Obesity alone has been established as an important risk factor for developing severe COVID-19 outcomes. These conditions lead to metabolic derangements that render our immune system ineffective in fighting off viruses.

Moreover, abdominal obesity can pose a mechanical challenge to respiration by pressing on the lungs. This can make it harder for the lungs to fill with air and transport oxygen to the blood. This is especially important in people who develop severe symptoms requiring mechanical ventilation (a respirator).

Kidney and heart disease are also frequent in diabetic patients. Some data suggests that COVID-19 can directly injure the heart, and thus people with pre-existing cardiac conditions (like coronary artery disease) may be in greater danger. Kidney disease is a hallmark of advanced and uncontrolled diabetes. The kidneys are important in regulating blood pressure and filtering out wastes, however, they are especially vulnerable in states of shock. An already diseased kidney might completely fail if the viral illness is too destructive for the body to handle. Hypertension, another condition that is usually seen in diabetics, has also been firmly associated with worsened outcomes in COVID-19 patients.

To summarize, people with diabetes have a weaker immune system and, usually, one or more other medical conditions that would impair the body’s ability to deal with the infection, making diabetics a high-risk population when it comes to COVID-19.

How can people with diabetes protect themselves against COVID-19?

Everyone, including diabetics, should strictly adhere to infection control precautions issued by universal and local health authorities. Some of the things that you can do to avoid getting infected or infecting others:

Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or approved disinfectants

If you have diabetes, here are some specific tips to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Make sure to read and learn more about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Try to keep your blood sugar level under strict control. Consider consulting with your physician if you feel like your current medications are not working properly.
  • If you develop any flu-like symptoms call your healthcare provider and ask for instructions
  • Stock up on your diabetes medications in case you have to go into quarantine for a couple of weeks
  • Make sure that the person likely to care for you if you get ill knows all your medical history and current medications

COVID-19 is spreading quickly and it seems that there’s no way for us to stop it anytime soon, and must rather learn to live with it. What we can do right now is adhere to safety measures recommended by relevant health authorities rather than panic and be afraid. If you have diabetes, it’s true that you are at a higher risk of a more serious infection, but every day we are learning more about COVID-19, and doctors are becoming more efficient in detecting and treating the virus. You can help by controlling your blood sugar level, following standard precautions, and consulting your healthcare provider when you have concerns. We can survive this pandemic, we just have to be patient a little bit longer!

To search for the best healthcare providers worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine.

About the Author:
Dr. Mersad is a medical doctor, author, and editor based in Germany. He's managed to publish several research papers early in his career. He is passionate about spreading medical knowledge. Thus, he spends a big portion of his time writing educational articles for everyone to learn.