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People With Diabetes May Face Complications with COVID-19

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2020

Both adults and children with diabetes that is not well controlled may face a higher risk of complications if they contract COVID-19. Healthcare leaders at Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at OU Medicine are providing awareness and guidance during the ongoing spread of the virus.

People with diabetes are not more likely to be infected with COVID-19, but they may face an uphill battle if they catch the virus, said Jed Friedman, Ph.D., director of Harold Hamm Diabetes Center.

“If a person’s diabetes is well-managed, the risk of severe illness with COVID-19 is about the same as the general public,” Friedman said. “However, if diabetes is not well-managed, or if a person has other conditions, such as heart disease or hypertension, the effects of COVID-19 could be worse because the body’s ability to fight infection is compromised.”

Viral infections can increase inflammation in people with diabetes, as well as increasing the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, most common in people with Type 1 diabetes. Both may contribute to complications if a person with diabetes gets COVID-19, Friedman said. Levels of inflammation may be higher in patients with COVID-19 and diabetes compared with those without diabetes. This suggests that patients with diabetes are more susceptible to an inflammatory storm, which leads to a more rapid deterioration with COVID-19, he said.

It does not appear that COVID-19 infects people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes differently, Friedman said. Rather, symptoms and risks vary by age, complications and how well diabetes is being managed.

While the majority of Oklahomans with diabetes are adults who have Type 2, children with diabetes can also face serious complications with COVID-19, said Minu George, M.D., Harold Hamm Diabetes Center pediatric endocrinologist. Most children with diabetes have Type 1, but an increasing number are being diagnosed with Type 2, he said.

“For the kids I take care of, I emphasize that the normal care they do to keep their blood sugars normal is so much more important now – that they’re checking their blood sugars frequently, whether it’s with a blood sugar checker or a continuous glucose monitor that checks their blood sugar every five minutes or so,” George said. “If their sugars are in the right range, there’s a much lower change chance of them becoming dehydrated or going into a diabetic coma, or diabetes ketoacidosis.”

Whether adult or child, people with diabetes should try to stay active and eat healthy meals, in addition to following Centers for Disease Control guidelines on social distancing, washing their hands frequently and not touching their face, George said. He continues to see his patients via telemedicine and works with them to manage their diabetes and avoid a trip to the hospital, where they could face more exposure to COVID-19. However, if people with diabetes need emergency care, George said, they shouldn’t hesitate to go to the hospital because healthcare professionals are taking every precaution to keep patients safe.

Thus far, it does not appear that insulin is in short supply, nor is distribution affected, Friedman said. However, that could change as the virus infects more people and further affects supply chains, he said.

Harold Hamm Diabetes Center is assessing all clinic appointments to determine if they can be safely delayed and rescheduled. When possible, the Diabetes Center will conduct telemedicine visits so that patients can interact with their healthcare providers from the safety of their homes. Clinic staff continue to be available by phone to discuss appointments and diabetes management.

For more information about diabetes and COVID-19, visit the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center website at