Covid infection increases diabetes risk, study shows

A patient being tested for diabetes. 

Photo credit: File

Covid-19 survivors are at risk of developing diabetes, a new study has shown.

Researchers who published their findings in the scientific journal, The Lancet, found that beyond 30 days of a Covid-19 infection, survivors were likely to be diagnosed with diabetes while some had even started using diabetic drugs.

“Our results indicate that beyond the acute phase of Covid-19, survivors are at an increased risk of developing incident diabetes and therefore diabetes should be considered as a component of the multifaceted Long Covid,” states the study.

The study shows that people who did not exhibit Covid-19 symptoms when they contracted the disease (asymptomatic patients) were also at risk of getting diabetes.

With over 180,000 participants in the study, a majority of whom were male, the study shows that most of them did not have diabetes before they contracted Covid-19, but were diagnosed with it after. The participants were followed up for almost a year after they contracted Covid-19.

Long Covid

“Risks and burdens of post-acute outcomes increased in a graded fashion according to the severity of the acute phase of Covid-19 (whether patients were non-hospitalised, hospitalised, or admitted to intensive care),” state the researchers.

The study recommends that people with Long Covid have to be identified and cared for when it comes to management of diabetes.

“Diabetes should be considered as a facet of the multifaceted Long Covid syndrome. Post-acute care strategies of people with Covid-19 should integrate screening and management of diabetes,” the study states.

“When this whole pandemic recedes, we’re going to be left with the legacy of this pandemic – a legacy of chronic disease for which health-care systems are unprepared,” said Mr Ziyad Al-Aly, a co-author of the study.

Previous studies show that people with diabetes get severe illness and are likely to spend more time in the intensive care unit should they be infected with Covid-19. The World Health Organization last year stated that Africans with diabetes would be hit hard should they get Covid-19.

“Covid-19 is delivering a clear message: Fighting the diabetes epidemic in Africa is in many ways as critical as the battle against the current pandemic,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Underlying conditions

The WHO analysed fatalities in 13 countries in Africa and found that people with underlying conditions, especially diabetes, were more likely to die from Covid-19 compared to those with no underlying condition.

“The Covid-19 pandemic will eventually subside, but Africa is projected in the coming years to experience the highest increase in diabetes globally. We must act now to prevent new cases, vaccinate people who have this condition and, equally importantly, identify and support the millions of Africans unaware they are suffering from this silent killer,” she said.

Some 24 million people in Africa are living with diabetes, but the number is likely to triple by 2045, said the International Diabetes Federation in its 10th Atlas edition released last year.

Some of the Long Covid symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, problems with memory and concentration (brain fog), difficulty sleeping (insomnia) and heart palpitations.