According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children generally appear to be less severely impacted by COVID-19 than adults. But a new study from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) shows that the pandemic could be affecting children’s health in unexpected ways.
The study reveals a surge of children being admitted to the hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis.
What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?
Diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, is life-threatening. In the study release Lily Chao, MD, MS, Interim Medical Diabetes Director at CHLA says “DKA happens when insulin levels in the blood drop too low for too long. Insulin helps the body utilize glucose. So when there’s not enough insulin, the body starts breaking down fat as a source of energy.”
This process, she says, causes dangerously high levels of acids in the blood.
If left untreated, this can lead to a build-up of fluid around the brain, coma, or even death. “Kids are coming in with dehydration and DKA. But DKA is preventable and reversible if we treat it early and appropriately,” says Dr. Chao, who is the lead author on the paper.
Why the Increased Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with DKA?
It is not clear if the rise in DKA comes from previous COVID-19 exposure. However, in the release Senta Georgia, Ph.D., an investigator in The Saban Research Institute of CHLA, says, “there is definitely a link between COVID-19 and diabetes.” This is particularly problematic for Latinx, and Black youth disproportionately impacted by obesity and type 2 diabetes—risk factors that place these youth at significant risk for poor outcomes. “We don’t know whether [COVID-19] infects insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas,” Georgia says. “There are some reports of a link between COVID-19 and diabetes in adults, but no pediatric studies have been published to date.”
What Are the Signs of DKA?
Diabetic ketoacidosis usually develops slowly, with symptoms similar to high blood sugar—dry mouth, frequent urination, and ketones in the urine. As the condition worsens, symptoms include fatigue, dry and flushed skin, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
You may also have difficulty breathing, a fruity odor on the breath, and confusion. DKA can cause loss of consciousness and lead to coma and even death. Therefore, DKA must be treated as a medical emergency.