What people with diabetes should know about COVID-19
TTW Staff Report | 3/25/2021, 6 a.m.
TTW Staff Report
Just over 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes and about 1 in 3 have prediabetes, according to a 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report.
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin and in type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to use insulin properly. Insulin is the hormone needed to extract glucose, or blood sugar, from the bloodstream into the cells of the body to use for energy. As a result, blood glucose levels rise higher than normal.
During a COVID-19 infection, blood glucose levels can be particularly difficult to control, and in turn, high blood sugars can interfere with the body’s ability to fight the infection. Viral infections like COVID-19 can also increase inflammation in people with diabetes and make it more difficult to recover.
While there is not enough data to show if people with diabetes are more likely to contract COVID-19 than the general population, those with diabetes who get the virus are at increased risk for complications, especially if blood sugars are not under good control.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is ample evidence that people with type 2 diabetes (the most common type) are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. Based upon what we know at this time, people with type 1diabetes and gestational diabetes may also be at higher risk for more severe illness.
In addition, having other health conditions, such as obesity or heart disease, along with the diabetes, can put someone at an even greater risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. Older people are also at higher risk of complications if they get the virus.
What should someone do if they have diabetes and develop COVID-19?
When sick with any viral infection, and especially COVID-19, people with diabetes face an increased risk of dehydration and uncontrolled blood sugars. It’s very important to drink plenty of fluids. If it’s difficult, have small sips every 15 minutes or so throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Make sure to have at least a 30-day supply of medications, including insulin.
Also, call the doctor for instructions on how to monitor blood sugars and adjust for changes during recovery. Check blood sugar extra times throughout the day and night, including first thing in the morning and two hours after eating. Let your doctor know about rising trends.
Rising blood sugars may be due to hormones that are released by the body to help the body fight illness. As the blood sugars rise, this increases the amount of medication or insulin needed to control blood sugars. Insulin is particularly important for type 1 diabetics since they need insulin to live. If the body doesn’t have enough insulin it starts breaking down fat as fuel, which produces ketones. When too many ketones are produced too fast, they can cause diabetic ketoacidosis.
People with diabetes who feel that they are sick should follow these steps, even if blood sugars are in target range:
• Continue taking medications for diabetes.
• Test blood sugars every four hours and make note of them.
• Drink extra non-caloric beverages.
• Weigh in every day, losing weight may be a sign of rising blood sugars.
• Do temperature checks every morning and evening.
In addition, if they experience any of the following emergency warning signs, seek medical attention immediately:
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
• New confusion
• Inability to wake or stay awake
• Bluish lips or face
How can people with diabetes protect themselves?
No matter what type of diabetes someone has, those with existing diabetes-related health problems are likely to have worse outcomes if they contract the coronavirus than people with diabetes who are otherwise healthy. People can lower their risk of getting very ill from COVID-19 if their diabetes is well-controlled.
Taking the standard precautions to avoid infection are essential, as well as controlling blood sugar through diet, exercise, monitoring and medication. Here are some tips for diabetics during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine. Having diabetes places someone at an increased risk for complications if they contract COVID-19. The vaccine can help prevent severe illness from COVID-19.
- Manage diabetes wisely. Take medications as directed to keep blood sugars under control. Stay in close communication with the doctor if feeling ill or with any concerns.
- Wash hands often and wear a mask in public.
- Practice physical distancing. Stay at least 6 feet away from others outside of the household. Avoid large gatherings of people. Consider using mail-order prescription services and grocery delivery services.
- Be prepared if you do get sick. Keep a supply of fever-reducing medications, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) in your home.
- Have up-to-date supplies of diabetic devices and prescriptions (at least a 30-day supply). Stock up on insulin supplies, glucose testing supplies, ketone test strips, glucose tablets and up-to-date prescriptions.
- Eat healthy. Choose foods that are good sources of protein, frozen vegetables as well as non-perishable forms of healthy foods, such as whole grain pastas, brown rice and protein sources.
- Exercise. Being active makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which can help people better manage diabetes.
For more information, visit www.eehealth.org/coronavirus.