Diabetes increases the odds that a COVID-19 infection will be severe, and people with diabetes may be up to four times more likely to develop long-lasting symptoms, new research suggests.
“Though more data is needed, some early studies suggest that diabetes may be a risk factor for long COVID, and thus careful monitoring of people with diabetes for development of long COVID may be advised,” says study author Jessica Harding, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
How diabetes impacts COVID
Long COVID symptoms run the gamut from fatigue, shortness of breath and cough to brain fog, dizziness and changes in taste or smell. These symptoms may come and go or persist and can last for months after the initial COVID infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Exactly how diabetes can add to the risk for long COVID is not fully understood, but many theories exist.
“Diabetes is a chronic disease with accompanying inflammation,” says Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who wasn’t part of the study. “Anything that amplifies that inflammatory state may lead to unremitting inflammation or long COVID.”
For the new study, Harding and her colleagues examined studies looking at long COVID symptoms in people with and without diabetes. In all, 43% of seven studies included in the new analysis identified diabetes as a potent risk factor for long COVID.
This isn’t the final say on the matter, because the studies included in the new analysis included many different groups of people, clusters of symptoms and had multiple follow-up times, making it difficult to draw a firm conclusion, Harding shares.
What should diabetics do to protect themselves?
“Vaccines, boosters and masks are the best prevention for initial COVID-19 infection,” she says. “However, if infected, it may be advisable [for someone with diabetes] to regularly monitor glucose levels, and adhere to prescribed glucose-lowering agents where appropriate, to reduce and manage long COVID risk.”
The findings were presented Sunday at a meeting of the American Diabetes Association, in New Orleans. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Outside experts who reacted to the findings agree that people with diabetes need to