Baylor College of Medicine

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How does COVID-19 impact patients with diabetes?

Homa Shalchi


Houston, TX -

The spread of coronavirus requires people to stay home and practice social distancing to prevent exposure to the virus. Individuals at high-risk are especially vulnerable, including those with diabetes. A Baylor College of Medicine expert explains why, and offers tips for prevention.

Many people with diabetes have a compromised immune system, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. People with congestive heart failure, hypertension and obesity also have a higher risk for complications with COVID-19. The risk for these conditions is higher in underserved communities.

Because coronavirus is a novel disease, experts have little evidence showing different risks between people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

“What we theorize is that having worse diabetes control, higher hemoglobin A1C and higher blood sugars increase the risk of having a worse case of COVID-19,” said Dr. Daniel DeSalvo, assistant professor of pediatrics – diabetes and endocrinology at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital. “That includes higher risk for requiring hospitalization, ICU stays and mortality.”

Experts suggest having a plan in place for managing your diabetes if you contract an infectious disease like coronavirus. Drink fluids for hydration, check blood sugars closely, have insulin at home and connect with your diabetes provider to get support. Some aspects of diabetes can be managed from home if you remain vigilant and plan ahead.

“For now, we’ve moved most of our diabetes clinic visits to a telehealth platform. Our patients on continuous glucose monitors can easily share their glucose data via cloud-based mobile apps.  Insulin pumps can be downloaded from home and shared with our clinic. In some cases, our clinic staff obtains the glucose and insulin information through conversation. Regardless of how the data are obtained, we still play an important role in helping to optimize their diabetes management plans.These visits can be really effective in helping patients improve their clinical outcome,” he said.

Experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath, severe fevers or dehydration warrant urgent medical care. Consider contacting your primary care specialist before visiting the emergency room.

On the prevention side, DeSalvo advises eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and exercising, whether that includes walking, doing home-based activities or exercising together as a family. All of this can help ensure health and wellness and can improve the immune system, which may help in decreasing the risk of having a severe infection with COVID-19. He also stresses the importance of practicing good handwashing, social distancing and wearing a mask in public to mitigate the risk of spreading or contracting the virus.

For parents taking care of their child’s diabetes, remember the importance of also taking care of their other needs with schooling, making sure they’re well fed and getting exercise. Focus on things other than COVID and partake in your child’s favorite activities to distract them.

“This is a time to be prepared, but certainly not panicked. We will get through this together, it’s just a matter of time. Always know that your diabetes care team is here for you,” DeSalvo said.

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