Diabetes and COVID-19

January 26, 2021

Dr Chase Ng Peng Yun, a junior doctor, shares his advice for people living with diabetes during COVID-19.

There are nearly 4 million people in the UK living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. But while most people with diabetes will only suffer mild symptoms, some are more likely to become seriously ill.

In fact, a recent study showed that 3 in 10 UK deaths from COVID-19 happened in people with diabetes. We also know that people from some Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are more likely to have type 2 diabetes and are also more at risk from COVID-19.

People with a history of high HbA1c levels (a marker of high blood sugar) or kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy) are more likely to need breathing support or end up in hospital from COVID-19.

If you’re living with diabetes, here are some tips to help you stay safe and healthy during COVID-19.

Protect yourself and others

Reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 or spreading it to others by following your local restrictions, maintaining social distancing, using a face covering where needed and following good hygiene practices such as regular hand washing and cleaning surfaces. 

Be alert for the early signs of COVID-19 by downloading the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app and spending just a minute every day logging your health. 

As well as the three ‘classic’ signs of COVID-19 (cough, fever and loss of smell), look out for other important symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, diarrhoea and sudden confusion (delirium).

If you think you might have COVID-19, it’s vital that you self-isolate and get tested as soon as possible. 

Take care of your health

Do your best to stay healthy during this time by keeping up with your regular routine, including eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, checking your feet and monitoring your blood sugar (if relevant).

Wherever possible, keep attending your regular health appointments or alternative remote support, and contact your GP or NHS 111 if you notice anything that doesn’t seem normal for you or is getting worse.

This is especially important for foot or eye problems, which can lead to serious issues if left untreated. Check with your clinic or hospital if you are uncertain whether your appointment is still going ahead.

This is a stressful time, so it’s important to look after your mental as well as your physical health. Take time to relax, connect with others around you and talk about your feelings and worries. The charity Mind has more useful tips to help with your mental wellbeing.

Know your meds

If you become unwell with COVID-19, you should speak to your diabetes care team as soon as possible for the right advice on your medications.

Generally, you can keep taking all your diabetic medications except for SGLT-2 inhibitors (these drug names end in -gliflozin, and brand names include Forxiga, Invokana and Jardiance). 

Sometimes people with severe COVID-19 are treated with a steroid called dexamethasone, which can cause high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia). If you end up having treatment for COVID-19, it’s essential that you tell the medical team about your diabetes right from the start so they can monitor and control your blood sugar levels alongside treating the disease.

Keep a close eye on your blood sugar if you’re unwell

If you become ill with COVID-19, follow our tips for how to look after yourself and monitor your health at home.

Make sure you stay hydrated if you become unwell with COVID-19. Dehydration can cause your blood sugar levels to go very high, and you may have to go to hospital for treatment.

Keep eating and drinking if you can. If you struggle to keep food or drink down, try small snacks or sips of sugary drinks. If you’re vomiting a lot and unable to keep anything down, seek medical help as soon as possible.

If you have type 1 Diabetes, check for ketones in your blood or pee when your blood sugar is more than 15mmol/l (or 13mmol/l on your insulin pump), unless you have been given a different target. Contact your diabetes care team if ketones are detected.

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