A Covid-19 infection increases the risk of developing diabetes, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, confirming previous research and underscoring the long-term health risks the virus poses as the world steadily adapts to living with Covid long term.
The study, based on health records from nearly 24,000 adults with at least one documented Covid-19 infection and were treated within the Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles between 2020 and 2022, found higher rates of new-onset diabetes in the 90 days after a Covid infection.
The odds of being diagnosed with new-onset diabetes were 58% greater after infection than before, the researchers found.
The finding is consistent with a growing body of research showing that patients who contract Covid are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with a range of metabolic and cardiovascular problems in the months after infection.
It also suggests this increased risk has persisted with omicron, the researchers said, the coronavirus variant that has been dominant in the U.S. and large parts of the world for more than a year.
The findings also suggest vaccination can help protect against the risk of diabetes after infection, the researchers said, as the risk of diabetes appeared to be lower in patients who were vaccinated at the time of infection.
Further research will be needed to confirm the theory, cautioned Alan Kwan, a cardiovascular physician in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai and the study’s lead author, adding that the researchers are still “steadfast” in the belief vaccination is an “important tool in protecting against Covid-19.”
What We Don’t Know
There is a great deal we still do not understand about Covid-19 and how it affects the body. Susan Cheng, a professor of cardiology and senior author of the study, said the team’s findings both broaden medicine’s understanding of the disease and unearths new questions. Though it is not certain, Cheng said the data suggests a Covid infection could be acting as a “disease accelerator” in some settings, “amplifying risk for a diagnosis that individuals might have otherwise received later in life.” A person with a preexisting risk for diabetes might, for example, be more likely to develop the disease by age 45 or 55 after infection rather than by 65, Cheng said.
As the Covid-19 pandemic progressed, evidence piled up showing that infection increased the risk of a litany of conditions throughout the body and a substantial body of research shows survivors are at greater risk of developing various neurological and psychiatric conditions, cardiovascular problems and metabolic issues. The risk for developing diabetes, a serious and lifelong condition affecting how the body manages sugar, is also elevated. The condition—which affects some 37 million people in the U.S., more than 10% of the population—is manageable but is still a leading cause of death in the U.S. and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease. The costs of insulin needed by diabetics is also significant and many struggle to afford it.
103 million. That’s how many confirmed Covid cases have been reported in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, according to the CDC. Though the number does not neatly map up to the number of people who have been infected—many of these will be repeat infections and many cases are missed through the lack of testing, use of at-home rapid tests and large number of asymptomatic infections—it gives a rough sense of scale for even a small risk increase for some conditions.
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