Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers established that diabetes—both type 1 and type 2—can increase an individual’s risk of severe infection. However, now medical experts believe that coronavirus isn’t just a risk for people with diabetes—the virus may actually cause diabetes.
In a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), a team of researchers explain how the incredibly infectious and potentially deadly virus may trigger diabetes in otherwise healthy people.
“There is a bidirectional relationship between COVID-19 and diabetes,” the letter, written by an esteemed team of MDs from around the world, begins. “On the one hand, diabetes is associated with an increased risk of severe COVID-19. On the other hand, new-onset diabetes and severe metabolic complications of preexisting diabetes, including diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolarity for which exceptionally high doses of insulin are warranted, have been observed in patients with Covid-19. These manifestations of diabetes pose challenges in clinical management and suggest a complex pathophysiology of COVID-19–related diabetes.”
A Young Man Got COVID-19—and Then Diabetes
The letter presents a case report from China, centered around a healthy young man who contracted COVID-19 who presented with new-onset, severe diabetes, termed keto-acidosis, after getting sick with the virus. It also brings up a study conducted in 2010 of 39 patients in China receiving treatment for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), claiming that 20 of them developed diabetes for the first time after contracting the virus. In most cases, the diabetes resolved after three years, but it persisted in 10% of patients even after.
It May Trigger A New Form of Diabetes
While it still isn’t clear if COVID-19 does in fact cause diabetes, the researchers believe it is a possibility that it may trigger type 1 or type 2 diabetes or even be a new form of diabetes.
Authors of the NEJM letter have developed a register to record all COVID-19-related diabetes cases in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the relationship between the two.
“Given the very short history of human infection with SARS-CoV-2, an understanding of how Covid-19–related diabetes develops, the natural history of this disease, and appropriate management will be helpful. The study of COVID-19–related diabetes may also uncover novel mechanisms of disease,” the letter concludes.
As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.