Researchers look into onset diabetes due to COVID-19

There is a new symptom COVID-19 survivors might also have to live with — diabetes.

“Not having a history of diabetes doesn’t mean that diabetes may not happen in the context of COVID-19,” said Professor Francesco Rubino, the chair of metabolic and bariatric surgery at King’s College London.

MORE: Global Registry of COVID-19-related diabetes

Rubino’s team is studying hundreds of cases of people developing diabetes after testing positive for COVID-19.

“We have collected at least 150 cases, which sounds like a small number, but it is indeed already one of the largest series of virus-related diabetes,” Rubino said.

“We have many questions. But at least some of them are particularly confirming a relationship that is plausibly one of cause and effect. But also, what happens when COVID-19 resolves? Is diabetes persisting?”

“My opinion, likely, it’s temporary,” said Dr. Gianluca Iacobellis, a professor of medicine, director of UM Hospital Diabetes Service. “It’s very unlikely that is going to be a permanent effect.”

Iacobellis also studies the new symptom and has ideas about the connection between COVID-19 and diabetes.

“It may cause these intense inflammatory reactions that attack the pancreas and can affect the ability of the pancreas to secrete insulin,” Iacobellis said.

Another theory is the virus amplifies the inflammation in fat tissue, creating more insulin resistance in the body.

“The adipose tissue by itself is a very inflammatory cell. The virus gets into adipose tissue and amplifies its inflammatory response – and these could be the trigger to gain an accelerated inflammatory response and to make the body more insulin resistant,” said Iacobellis. “This insulin resistance that can be another aggravating factor for the new onset of diabetes.”

“Diabetes is a serious disease and could have significant complications. And it’s very important to recognize those signs of diabetes early on, so that one can prevent serious complications that could be potentially lethal,” Rubino said. “And therefore, if people experience symptoms that are typical diabetes, like frequent trips to the bathroom or frequent urination, or fatigue, or confusion, or hunger – those could be symptoms that should suggest contacting their doctor.”

“But we believe at the moment that the majority of people who get COVID-19 will not have diabetes, so there is no reason to panic,” Rubino added.

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Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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