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Study: Covid-19 infection increases diabetes risk

A health practitioner prepares a vial of insulin. (Image via American Diabetes Association)

People who have had Covid-19 – even mild cases – face an increased risk of being diagnosed with diabetes within a year of recovering from the illness, according to a new study.

The study was published March 28 in the journal “Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.” It analyzed data from more than 180,000 patients from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

As reported by NPR, researchers found that people who had Covid-19 were about 40% more likely to develop diabetes within a year after recovering, compared to participants in a control group. The likelihood of developing diabetes grew if the patient suffered from a serious infection that led to hospitalization or a stay in intensive care.

The issue is of particular importance to Native Americans who have suffered higher rates of Covid-19 compared to the general population. Native Americans already experience higher rates of diabetes than other groups.

“What’s surprising is that it is happening in people with no prior risk factors for diabetes” before becoming infected with Covid-19, Ziyad Al-Aly, the lead author of the study told NPR.

The findings add to a growing list of other studies that show people who suffered from Covid-19 are at risk of facing other long-term health problems, including heart and kidney ailments and chronic fatigue.

According to the NPR report, the study’s authors compared patients who tested positive for Covid-19 and survived the illness for more than a month with more than 4 million other people who didn’t contract the virus in the same period. This data was also compared with another 4.28 million patients who were treated at the VA in 2018 and 2019.

The study states that around 1% to 2% of people who have been infected with Covid-19 will develop diabetes as a result. While it may seem like a small number, nearly 80 million people in the U.S. have had Covid-19, Al-Aly told NPR – meaning an additional 800,000 to 1.6 million people could develop diabetes who might not have otherwise.

“That translates to a really significant number of people with new onset diabetes in the U.S. and many, many more around the world,” Al-Aly told NPR.

Al-Aly told NPR that the study shows that more attention needs to be paid to the long-term effects of Covid-19, and that more vigilance can start at the doctor’s office.

“We need to start treating Covid[-19] as a risk factor for diabetes,” Al-Aly told NPR, adding that each person who has come down with the virus needs to be screened.

Jorge Moreno, an internal medicine physician at Yale University who didn’t work on Al-Aly’s study, told NPR he believes the study will create more awareness among general practitioners and endocrinologists, like himself, to screen patients who have had Covid-19 for diabetes and other complications.

Moreno told NPR that those who’ve had Covid-19 should also be closely monitoring their health and changes in their body, and should seek help at the first sign of an issue. Health officials say major symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination (which is not influenced by how much liquid is consumed), blurry vision and major weight fluctuations.

To access the study, go to thelancet.com.

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