Complications of COVID-19 People with Diabetes Need to Know

Managing your blood sugars may reduce your risk of these life-threatening issues.

Loading the player...

While researchers continue to learn more and more about COVID-19, it’s already obvious that complications of COVID-19 can be life-threatening. These complications occur when organs falter—or in some cases, overreact—in response to the effects of the coronavirus in their body.

Anyone can experience these complications, but some groups of people are more at risk than others. This includes people with diabetes.

“People with diabetes should be particularly cautious about contracting COVID-19 because they can experience more severe complications if they do, in fact, get infected,” says Minisha Sood, MD, endocrinologist. Learn more here about how COVID-19 affects people with diabetes differently.

What Are the Complications?

There’s a wide range of potential complications, but some are more common than others. “Some of the most common complications from COVID-19 that people with diabetes are experiencing include pneumonia, respiratory failure, and septic shock,” says Dr. Sood.

Pneumonia is inflammation in the lung tissue which can be due to bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, such as COVID-19 or influenza. Says Dr. Sood, “That inflammation can lead to fluid buildup and an immune response that makes oxygenation of the blood difficult.”

Respiratory failure refers to when the blood isn’t getting enough oxygen. This can occur because COVID-19 can affect breathing and inhibit oxygen intake.

Septic shock is an overreaction of the immune system. It involves dangerously low blood pressure and dehydration caused by a body-wide infection.

Additionally, COVID-19 can affect the cardiovascular system. It may cause cardiac issues like heart failure, and it increases the risk of blood clots.

COVID-19 and Ketoacidosis

People with diabetes in particular need to be aware of the risk of ketoacidosis. Having a viral illness—such as COVID-19—increases the risk of this diabetes complication.

“The viral illness is a stress on the body, and under that stress blood glucose levels will rise,” says Dr. Sood. “In addition, the virus itself can impair the body's ability to make insulin.” Insulin helps your body use blood sugar. Thus, when you’re low on insulin, your body thinks it can’t use the available blood glucose for fuel—despite the rising glucose levels.

“Under those conditions the body makes ketones or acids as an alternative fuel. If the acids or ketones build up in the body this can lead to dehydration, which can be profound,” says Dr. Sood. Other symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include confusion, nausea, and vomiting.

How to Protect Yourself

If you have diabetes, you may feel vulnerable and worried about your health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My advice to patients with diabetes [is] to feel empowered and to take this opportunity, as difficult as it is, to control their blood glucose better, to open channels of communication with their healthcare providers, to test their blood sugars more often, maybe even to work on treating overweight, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,” says Dr. Sood.

It's also important to be cautious to prevent COVID-19 infection altogether. Here are tips for at-risk groups to prevent COVID-19.