Does COVID-19 trigger diabetes?


By Elizabeth Sitotombe

COVID-19 has had a huge negative impact the world over and continues to affect millions of people across the globe.

With so many deaths and sickness it is one challenge after the other. 

The emerging waves of the pandemic have been unkind to people with underlying conditions especially those living with diabetes and even more so those with diabetes and other health conditions in addition, like diabetes plus obesity or diabetes and heart disease.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.

Diabetes can be caused by either insulin which is not working, which is called insulin resistance, the absence of it or inadequate insulin which can be caused by the pancreas not functioning. 

Insulin resistance can be caused by many conditions, from one’s lifestyle, obesity and at times conditions like hyperthyroidism. 

“In Zimbabwe, it is estimated that 10 in every 100 people have diabetes, and currently, diabetes statistics represent over 100 000 visits or consultations at outpatients departments per year.”

According to Dr Harris Chimuka, COVID-19 has been seen to attack the pancreas, which then leads to inadequate insulin in the body, the patient then becomes dependent on medication to keep their sugars normal. 

People with diabetes have been found to be more vulnerable to the severe effects of COVID-19.

In many countries, a large number of deaths attributed to the virus have been in people living with the condition.

Naturally, people with diabetes are more likely to develop more severe symptoms and complications when infected with any virus.

Having more than one condition makes it harder for the body to fight infection.

Thirty-six-year-old male Talent is now on diabetic medication, a condition that surfaced after contracting COVID-19

“I contracted COVID-19 end of January and spend a whole month in hospital, I had developed COVID-19 pneumonia, the assumption was my sugar levels where elevated because of the steroids I was taking called prednisolone, and once I was done with the course things would return back to normal. But that was not the case months later I am depending on drugs to control the blood sugar levels in my body.”

Viral infections can also increase inflammation or internal swelling in people with diabetes. This can also be caused by high blood sugars, and that inflammation could contribute to more severe complications.

COVID-19 even appears to trigger diabetes in people who did not have it earlier. 

Doctors have been observing an increase in the number of patients who have been diagonised with COVID-19 having high blood sugar levels. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 20-30 percent of post COVID-19 patients who were treated for severe illness have developed diabetes or high blood sugar levels after their recovery. 

“There is no evidence that proves that COVID-19 causes diabetes in patients who are compeletely euglycemic (having normal sugars), most of the times COVID-19 patients will have a prediabetic state(borderline diabetic), which worsens with the COVID-19 infection. Besides, indolent altered sugar metabolism is uncapped by COVID-19 leading to diabetes.”

The good news is chances of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 are greatly reduced if the diabetes is well-managed.

There are many people with diabetes who have been infected with the virus and made a healthy recovery. 

A diabetes patient should ensure they maintain a healthy diet.

A healthy diet is essential for diabetes management. It is therefore important for people with diabetes to eat a varied and balanced diet to keep their blood glucose levels stable and boost their immune system. 

  • Eating more vegetables and fruits
  • Avoid excessive consumption of fried foods
  • Limit consumption of foods high in sugar, carbohydrates and fat. 
  • Have lean proteins like fish and beans 
  • Exercise

It is imperative that people with diabetes take precautions to avoid the COVID-19 virus if possible, by following health measures like washing hands, social distancing avoiding closed spaces and above all getting vaccinated.

If a diabetic suspects he/she has COVID-19, he/she should monitor one’s glucose levels continously. 

  • Take medication religiously 
  • Avoid over working and get adequate rest 
  • Drink enough water 
  • And most importantly, consult healthcare providers on time.

Late reporting by patients with co-morbidities has led to high fatality rates. 

In Zimbabwe, people living with diabetes are on the priority list for vaccination programmes.

Get vaccinated at the earliest chance if you are diabetic.


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