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Experts note that diabetes is an inflammatory disease that can cause more serious complications if a person develops COVID-19. Getty Images
  • Researchers report that 40 percent of people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 had type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • They add that untreated diabetes can increase the severity of COVID-19.
  • They note that having an inflammatory disease such as diabetes can increase the risks associated with COVID-19 as can accompanying conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity.

About 1 of every 10 people in the United States has diabetes.

However, a new study reports that 40 percent of Americans who have died of COVID-19 had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

In addition, researchers say 1 in 10 people with diabetes who are hospitalized with COVID-19 die within a week, suggesting that unmanaged diabetes increases the risk of dying from COVID-19.

Untreated diabetes also increases both COVID-19 severity and complications, according to research presented recently at the 81st Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

People with diabetes who were not taking medication to control their illness were hospitalized longer and took longer to recover than other people with COVID-19, according to research led by Dr. Sudep Bajpeyi of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Conversely, those with low blood sugar levels had less severe COVID-19 complications and shorter hospital stays.

Dr. Camillo Ricordi, a professor and director of the Diabetes Research Institute and the Cell Transplant Center at the University of Miami in Florida, told Healthline that the new findings square with earlier research from Italy showing that people with diabetes had lower COVID-19 survivability than people without diabetes.

“There’s a clear association between having an A1C [blood glucose] level above 7 and the risk of mortality” from COVID-19, said Ricordi.

Ricordi said diabetes and COVID-19 are inflammatory diseases that carry an increased risk of dangerous blood clotting.

He also emphasized that common comorbidities of diabetes, including obesity and high blood pressure, also likely play a role in a person’s poorer COVID-19 outcome.

People with type 1 diabetes also are at higher risk but for different reasons.

Because individuals with type 1 diabetes have an autoimmune disease, they are predisposed to other immunological disorders and also may have “less ability to regulate their immune system, and that can lower their ability to fight an immune-triggering” disease such as COVID-19, Ricordi said.

The link between diabetes and COVID-19 illness severity and death is particularly strong among Hispanic and Latinx populations, the study concluded.

Hispanic people are 2.4 times more likely to die of COVID-19 and 50 percent more likely to have diabetes than white Americans, researchers noted. Part of the reason is that many people in this community don’t know they have diabetes, Bajpeyi said.

The findings were based on a study of 369 people admitted to the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, with COVID-19.

The study group was categorized into groups of people having normal A1C blood sugar levels, prediabetes, or diabetes. People with diabetes were also sorted based on whether they were taking medication to treat their condition.

“Our results highlight the importance of assessing, monitoring, and controlling blood glucose in hospitalized COVID-19 patients from the start, specifically for vulnerable populations already at risk of comorbidities,” said Bajpeyi.

Other studies have found that people with diabetes not only are at greater risk of complications from COVID-19 but also may be at higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Disruptions to diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors — as well as decreased access to medication — caused by the COVID-19 pandemic also may take a health toll on people with diabetes, researchers say.

“We are now learning that many Americans who hunkered down over the past year and a half to avoid infection report that their diet is even poorer, they feel more isolated, and are experiencing higher levels of additional stress from COVID-19,” Dr. Garry Welch, chief scientific officer and co-founder at Silver Fern Healthcare, told Healthline. “Research shows that we can expect a greater wave of death and disability from chronic diseases due to these factors — compounded by the fact that many patients have also avoided regular medical checkups for chronic conditions.”

Experts say there are two ways that people with diabetes can lower their risk of getting sick or dying from COVID-19. One way is to get vaccinated and the other is to keep their blood-sugar levels under control with medication, diet, and lifestyle changes.