Diabetes tips

Is COVID-19 leading to diabetes?

Lauren Rapaport
Featured Podcast Episode
June 8, 2023

Recent studies have suggested a potential association between and being diagnosed with diabetes after having COVID-19. In data from 11 cohorts composed of more than 4.5 million people diagnosed with COVID-19, the risk for being diagnosed with was 64% higher in those who had recently contracted COVID-19 compared with controls who did not have COVID-19.

Of course, just because it appears people who have had COVID-19 are more likely to develop diabetes, does not necessarily mean that COVID-19 causes diabetes.

Scientists are considering various contributing factors to this potential association, including:

  • COVID-19 causes a temporary rise in blood sugar, which then resolves over time.
  • A US study of 594 people newly diagnosed with diabetes while hospitalized with COVID-19 found that blood sugar levels often returned to normal after discharge from the hospital, without treatment.
  • Plus, dexamethasone, a steroid used to treat severe COVID-19, can cause temporary rises in blood sugar.
  • A lot of diabetes goes undetected, especially type 2. It could be that people who are newly diagnosed with diabetes after having COVID actually had diabetes before but that the diabetes wasn't detected until they were being treated for COVID.

Some scientists have questioned whether COVID is causing a new type of diabetes altogether, or whether people are being misdiagnosed with diabetes after having COVID.

How can COVID cause type one diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed after an acute illness, such as a virus or flu. Research has shown that this prior illness causes the body’s immune system to increase production of all antibodies, which leads to an immune system attack directed at the islet cells of the pancreas that produce insulin and a sudden loss of insulin-producing beta cells.

The current thought is that COVID might be one of these acute illnesses that leads to this increased production of antibodies and autoimmune response.

While scientists are exploring this new  association between COVID-19 and diabetes, it's important to remember that there could be other explanations for this data and more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between the two.