Jennifer Hobbs is adjusting to her new medical state—brain fog, joint pain, elevated liver enzymes and type 2 diabetes. She had prediabetes before the Covid-19 infection, but before that Hobbs had healthy blood sugar levels and did not need any treatment. Recently, those blood sugar levels changed and became unhealthy.
“I take my blood sugar [level] every morning, and even with two different types of medication, it’s all over the place,” said Hobbs, 36. The new diabetes diagnosis has both Hobbs and her primary care provider wondering if the coronavirus has played a role.
Two years into the pandemic, scientists and physicians are shifting their attention to the long-term consequences of a Covid-19 infection, termed “long Covid.” Recent studies add diabetes to the list of possible long Covid outcomes.
Experts have known that people with diabetes are at higher risk of severe Covid-19 infection, but now, a new connection is unraveling — one in which a Covid-19 infection may lead to a higher risk for diabetes.
A study in the United States similarly found an increased incidence rate of diabetes in people who had recovered from Covid-19: a 40% increase in risk at least a year after infection. The researchers estimate that about 2 out of every 100 people who are infected with Covid-19 will have a new diagnosis of diabetes.
This US-based study, published last week in the medical journal The Lancet, also found that even among people who had low to no risk factors for diabetes, Covid-19 infection led to a 38% increased risk of diabetes afterward.
The more severe someone’s coronavirus infection was, the higher their risk of diabetes. For people who were treated in the ICU, the risk of diabetes jumped 276%. This connection could be related to the steroids that some patients get while receiving acute care in a hospital setting, which can increase blood sugar levels.
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“This is not diabetes for a month or two after recovery. This is for a year out, and it’s happening certainly in people who are not hospitalized,” said lead researcher Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis.