A massive study finds diabetes risk rises after COVID-19

Those who got COVID-19 might be 40% more likely to develop diabetes.
Derya Ozdemir
Doctor use glucosmeter checking blood sugar level from patient hand.interstid/iStock

A massive research has found that people who get COVID-19 have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes up to a year later. 

According to the study published this week in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Ziyad Al-Aly, chief researcher for the Veterans Affairs (VA) St Louis Healthcare System in Missouri, and Xie, an epidemiologist also at the VA St Louis Healthcare System, examined records from more than 8 million people, including 180,000 who had COVID-19.

The researchers saw that the risk of developing diabetes rose as COVID-19 severity increased. When compared to people who did not have COVID-19 and were not hospitalized or admitted to intensive care, those who were hospitalized or admitted to intensive care had roughly four times the risk.

The findings are consistent with those of another study from Germany, which was smaller and shorter in duration than the new study. However, the results point to the same conclusion. “The risk is small but not negligible,” says Al-Aly, in an interview with Medscape Medical News. “It’s really, really clear that all these roads are pointing in one direction, that COVID-19 increases the risk of diabetes up to a year later."

COVID-19 and the risk of diabetes

According to the most recent study, people who got COVID-19 were around 40 percent more likely to develop diabetes up to a year later than those in the control groups.

This means that for every 1,000 patients studied in each group, roughly 15 more people were diagnosed with diabetes in the COVID-19 group. And nearly all of the cases were type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body develops resistance to or does not produce enough insulin.

The researchers saw that even patients with minor illnesses and no previous risk factors for diabetes were more likely to develop the condition. Moreover, people with a high BMI, a measure of obesity and a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes had a more than doubled risk of developing diabetes with a COVID-19 infection.

This study and many others are adding to our understanding of the long-term implications of COVID-19.  While this is not to say that the findings will surely apply to other groups of people, the increase in diabetes risk could cause a dramatic increase in the number of people diagnosed with the disease globally. 

"When this whole pandemic recedes, we’re going to be left with the legacy of this pandemic — a legacy of chronic disease," for which health-care systems are unprepared, says Al-Aly, in a Nature report

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