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Can COVID-19 Cause Diabetes?

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Uncontrolled diabetes is considered a risk factor for developing a severe case of COVID-19. But can contracting COVID-19 lead to diabetes? New research has come to light that may indicate a relationship between the two diseases.


Exploring the link


The research – published in June 2020 by 17 diabetes experts in the New England Journal of Medicine – claims that COVID-19 and diabetes are related, in that some people who are infected with the coronavirus suddenly develop the latter.

The specialists cite multiple studies that show a relationship between the 2019-2020 coronavirus and diabetes: One report from a Singapore hospital explored the details of the case of a 37-year-old man who went into diabetic ketoacidosis after contracting the novel coronavirus. Another case study from 2010 focused on the link between SARS (an illness closely related to COVID-19) and diabetes. Out of 39 Chinese patients who were hospitalized with the SARS disease, 20 developed diabetes.

Theories for the association


The experts theorize that since both COVID-19 and SARS bind to the ACE2 receptors in the body, they may have caused changes in the way the patients metabolized glucose, triggering the onset of diabetes. ACE2 receptors are found throughout the body in many different metabolic tissues including in the pancreas, the small intestine, and the kidneys.


“Diabetes is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases, and we are now realizing the consequences of the inevitable clash between two pandemics,” said Francesco Rubino, professor of metabolic surgery at King’s College London and co-lead investigator of the research project.


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Diabetes: Definition

Diabetes: Definition

Type 1 or Type 2?


Rubino admitted that neither he nor his team knew what type of diabetes was triggered in the COVID-19 patients. Diabetes is a disease classified into two categories–Type 1 and type 2–and while the symptoms of the condition are similar, people with Type 2 diabetes can often keep the disease at bay through a diet and exercise regimen, but people with Type 1 diabetes must rely on daily insulin injections to survive.


“Given the short period of human contact with this new coronavirus, the exact mechanism by which the virus influences glucose metabolism is still unclear, and we don’t know whether the acute manifestation of diabetes in these patients represents classic type 1, type 2, or possibly a new form of diabetes,” said Rubino.

Skepticism among other experts


Before you start worrying about getting COVID-19 and then being hit with another disease, it’s important to note that some experts disagree with the findings presented by Rubino and the other specialists. Dr. Gabriela da Silva Xavier, senior lecturer in cellular metabolism at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., said it would be “unfair” to assume that COVID-19 could lead to diabetes, while Dr. Riyaz Patel, associate professor of cardiology at University College London Hospital in the U.K., said there is simply no evidence to link the two diseases.


For now, don’t assume that COVID-19 causes any form of diabetes–the added stress isn’t good for you. However, people with diabetes need to take extra precautions to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re living with diabetes, keep your blood sugar levels under control, make sure to eat well, and get frequent exercise. Once your glucose is in check, your risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19 is no higher than the risk of someone without diabetes.

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