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Can COVID-19 really cause diabetes?

covid cause diabetes
Photo via 2C2K Photography/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A number of long-term health problems have been associated with surviving a COVID-19 infection, including neurological issues, skin symptoms, and difficulty breathing. Two new studies indicate that a bout of COVID could also cause diabetes.

The studies were conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine. They found that COVID can “infect and destroy certain cells that are crucial for keeping diabetes at bay,” according to ABC News. Those cells are housed in your pancreas, a vital organ to keeping your blood sugar levels normal.

If the virus manages to reach your pancreas, it can worm its way into the β-cells there and replicate. This can throw off a body’s ability to produce the proper amount of insulin, which can lead to hyperglycemia or an excess of glucose. This is one of the most common markers of diabetes.

“The virus actually destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin,” Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OBGYN and ABC News‘ chief medical correspondent, said. “[This] decreases insulin levels and then leads directly to high sugar and type 1 diabetes.”

Diabetes is already a prevalent issue in the United States. It contributes to around 10-15% of deaths in the U.S., according to ABC, and causes a number of issues for the people living with it. These issues include fatigue, frequent urination, blurry vision, and unexpected weight loss. Long term, it can do damage to the nerves, kidneys, heart, and eyes. 

One of the studies offers good news for COVID survivors who’ve developed diabetes. There may be drugs capable of reversing diabetes caused by COVID, but the research is still in an early phase. Indications that COVID could do long-term damage to the pancreas have experts concerned that not all cases will be compatible using medication.

Experts advise anyone who has recovered from a bout of COVID to keep an eye out for the warning signs of diabetes. 

“The key is if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and have any classic signs or symptoms of type 1 diabetes, get tested for diabetes,” Ashton said. “We’re talking about extreme thirst and increase in urination; unintentional, significant weight loss; or fatigue, just to name a few.”

Other symptoms of diabetes include extreme, unexpected hunger, irritability and other notable mood changes, and blurred vision. 

Sources: Forbes, ABC News, Mayo Clinic


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