It is known that diabetes increases your risk of experiencing a severe COVID-19 infection. A person with this disease is also highly likely to die. However, new evidence now suggests that a COVID-19 infection increases your likelihood of developing new-onset diabetes.
The revelation comes as a surprise to many in medical circles. It is also shocking for perfectly healthy people who developed new-onset diabetes during hospitalization with COVID-19 or after successfully recovering from the disease.
Even as the devastating effects of COVID-19 wear off due to continued vaccination across the globe, the world might start fighting a different kind of pandemic. It follows a recent revelation that 14.4 percent of the total hospitalized COVID-19 patients developed new-onset diabetes.
That is not all. Another study found that as high as 46 percent of the patients suffering from severe COVID developed hyperglycemia. Their high blood sugar levels continued for six months, with some showing remission. However, approximately 2 percent of these patients got diagnosed with overt diabetes. The current situation worsens an already bleak situation, considering that 463 million people globally already have this disease, as per 2019 statistics.
The ability of COVID-19 to trigger a significant increase in blood sugars in perfectly healthy people causes more concern for those with prediabetes. As noted, 352.1 million individuals globally had prediabetes based on the 2017 statistics. Therefore, there is a possibility that COVID-19 infections will accelerate the progression of their disease to full-blown diabetes.
It follows evidence that the virus (SARS-CoV-2) damages the pancreatic beta cells that generally facilitate insulin production for effective blood sugar regulation.
How Exactly Does COVID-19 Cause Diabetes
Scientists and medical experts have suggested multiple mechanisms through which COVID-19 causes new-onset diabetes in healthy patients. One of the most common is that coronavirus usually attaches itself to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors in an infected person. These receptors may express in pancreatic beta cells in some patients, allowing the infection and destruction of these insulin-producing cells.
The presence of coronavirus in the pancreatic islets based on autopsies of people who died of COVID19 is clear proof that this virus impacts beta cells, affecting normal functioning. However, other factors might as well explain why these cells appear susceptible to a COVID-19 infection.
For instance, a recent study unearthed the possibility of neurophilin-1 (NRP1) allowing COVID-19 infection of the pancreatic beta cells. The process causes these cells to die and makes glucose-induced insulin secretion decline significantly.
Coronavirus also triggers local inflammation in the pancreatic islets, leading to necroptotic cell death. This process can lead to a significant loss or reduction in the number of insulin-producing cells, contributing to new-onset diabetes in people infected with COVID-19.
Beyond the theory about the virus causing cell death, there is another view that COVID-19 triggers transdifferentiation, a process that transforms insulin-producing cells into different kinds of cells. In the process, pancreatic beta cells lose their ability to produce insulin. This change in functionality negatively affects insulin secretion and undermines blood sugar regulation in the body, leading to new-onset diabetes in coronavirus-infected patients.
The mechanism through which the virus moves from the lungs to the pancreas remains a mystery. Some experts suggest that the virus may reach this organ via the bloodstream after leaking from lung alveoli or the gut.
Vaccination as a Preventive Measure
The potential that the coronavirus disease might cause new-onset diabetes is a compelling reason to take a vaccine. Diabetes is a devastating disease as it stands, considering its long list of complications or comorbid conditions.
COVID-19 vaccination should be a priority for those with prediabetes. People with other diabetes risk factors should also take a vaccine to reduce their risk of getting infected with COVID-19. If clearly coronavirus disease is a risk factor for diabetes, it is better to be on the safe side.
Patients with diabetes risk factors who have already become infected with COVID-19 should stay vigilant and watch out for symptoms indicative of high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. In particular, they should inform their health providers of this development, whether it is during their hospitalization or after recovering from this viral infection.
Some symptoms suggestive of new-onset diabetes might include excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, extreme hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. Early intervention is always advisable. It can help manage the condition on time, whether the spike in blood sugar is temporary or long-term.