Can COVID-19 cause diabetes? Here’s what researchers say so far

Can COVID-19 cause diabetes? Here’s what researchers say so far
(Image credit: Getty)

We know from ongoing clinical studies that people with diabetes are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, but researchers are now examining a potential new development. According to an analysis of 3,700 people (with data taken from eight separate studies) published in the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism journal, over 14% of people admitted to hospital with severe COVID-19 developed diabetes. 

There’s been an increase in new-onset Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes reported among COVID patients, but at this time researchers don’t understand how the disease could trigger diabetes and are investigating further. In short, doctors are unsure whether COVID-19 is accelerating existing diabetes risk factors, or causing them, or both. It’s also important to note that this is just a single analysis of available data, so more research is needed.

Researchers are also investigating whether these new diabetes diagnoses are temporary or permanent. That’s because other coronaviruses such as SARS have been linked to new cases of diabetes in the past, but the blood sugar levels for most of those patients returned to normal within a couple of years. Monitoring blood sugar levels is an important part of diabetes care, with the best glucose meters designed to help people obtain accurate readings at home. 

Can COVID-19 cause new-onset diabetes?

This week, The Washington Post published an article discussing this upswing in new diabetes cases linked to COVID-19. They spoke to Mihail Zilbermint, M.D, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, whose team has seen a rise in the number of diabetes patients with COVID-19. Dr Zilbermint told the news outlet that, “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in patients who are newly diagnosed.”

A woman wearing a yellow top and white jeans injects herself with insulin

(Image credit: Getty)

A study published last year by doctors in Wuhan, China, also raised concerns about elevated blood sugar in COVID-19 patients, and whether new-onset diabetes would surely follow, given how some other coronaviruses have led to diabetes diagnoses.

The early analysis published in the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism journal was gathered from reports of severe hyperglycemia (uncontrolled blood sugar) in over 3,700 COVID-19 patients. Again, researchers point out that there could be other factors at play with these patients that could have caused such high blood sugar levels, including certain types of medication, and pre-risk factors for diabetes. However, they stress that “a direct effect from COVID-19 should also be considered.”

Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes

According to guidance published by the CDC, Type 2 diabetes symptoms include the below, but not everyone will display every symptom, and there could be other causes for some of the symptoms:

  • Feeling thirsty all the time
  • Constant fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling hungry all the time
  • Blurred vision
  • Getting easily irritated
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet
  • Wounds that don't heal
  • Reoccurring yeast infections
  • You’re losing weight without trying

The Mayo Clinic says that Type 2 diabetes prevents your body from using insulin in the correct way. While it used to affect mostly middle-aged and older people, the rise in childhood obesity has led to a spike in Type 2 diabetes cases among children and teens too. Type 2 diabetes is more common than Type 1, and the symptoms are often so mild, it’s thought that over eight million Americans could be unaware that they are living with the health condition. 

Last month, a new study looked at how a low carb diet can put Type 2 diabetes into remission. The Mediterranean Diet has also proven useful for managing Type 2 diabetes, with vitamin C rich foods proven to reduce diabetes risk too.

If you think you may be displaying symptoms suggestive of Type 2 diabetes, contact your doctor or healthcare professional to discuss your concerns. 

Claire Davies

Claire is Health and Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews and covers all aspects of health, wellbeing and personal care. With over 17 years' experience as a qualified journalist, writer and editor, Claire has worked across some of Future's most prestigious, market-leading brands. Due to past struggles with insomnia, she is particularly passionate about the role quality sleep plays in our physical and mental health, and loves helping readers to sleep better. Claire is always keen to hear from brands regarding products and services that can help readers feel healthy, happy and empowered.