COVID-19 and diabetes: What you need to know

While much is still unknown about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that people with diabetes may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Tiffany Pankow, MD, Director of Diabetes Education for the HonorHealth Medical Group, answers frequently asked questions about diabetes and COVID-19.

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If you have any specific concerns, your HonorHealth provider is here for you. They are now offering video visits for urgent care and routine care. To schedule a virtual visit, contact your provider’s office.

1. Why does having diabetes put people at increased risk of COVID-19 infection?

Many people with chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, can be at some increased risk of a more significant infection with COVID-19. The virus can worsen complications of diabetes, including hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and severe hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

While we do not know all the reasons why patients with diabetes might have a more significant illness, but we do know that diabetes in general can affect the body’s ability to fight infection. This is true of other viral illness such as influenza – that’s why flu shots and other vaccinations are recommended.

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, contact the HonorHealth nurse line at 480-587-6200 or chat with a caregiver. They can direct you to the best place for care. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

2. How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19 if I have diabetes?

In addition to practicing the recommended CDC guidelines on infection prevention (like washing your hands, not touching your face, wearing a mask and social distancing), follow your regular care plan to control your blood sugar, including:

  • Taking your medications as directed by your healthcare provider. 
  • Ensuring that you have enough medications, lancets and test strips.   
  • Getting vaccinations. It is more important than ever to stay up to date on immunizations. If you have diabetes, get the flu shot and ask your provider about the pneumonia vaccine.
    • The flu shot and other vaccines won't prevent you from getting COVID-19. However, they will help protect you from getting COVID-19 and another virus, like the flu, at the same time. 
  • Not delaying care and keeping regular appointments. It is very important to continue to receive regular care, monitoring and treatment of diabetes during the pandemic. More than ever it is vital for your health to manage your diabetes and work with your health care provider to optimize your treatment. Many appointments can be done via video visit, including diabetes education for more guidance or seeing a dietitian for meal tips.
  • Making healthy dietary choices to keep blood sugar better controlled and reaching out to your healthcare provider if your blood sugar is not well controlled. 
  • Being active for 30 minutes a day. You can still go for a walk while practicing social distancing or try a free online workout video.
  • Getting enough sleep every night and reaching out for help if you are feeling more stressed or anxious. Sleep and stress management are important to help your immune system.

3. Do some medications for diabetes or hypertension make COVID-19 illness worse? What should I do if they take those medications?

You should continue to take all medications as prescribed, including ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers. National guidelines and experts do NOT recommend making a change to your medications because of COVID-19. Contact your healthcare provider to discuss any questions about your medications. 

4. What should I do if I develop symptoms of COVID-19?

First, it is important to remember that most cases of COVID-19 will cause mild to moderate symptoms. Stay home if you have mild symptoms, and call your healthcare provider for additional guidance for your unique medical concerns.  

They may recommend a virtual visit (video or phone) to get a better understanding of your symptoms and make additional recommendations for testing and care. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, it is very important to closely monitor blood sugar levels and reach out to your primary care physician for additional guidance. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, contact the HonorHealth nurse line at 480-587-6200 or chat with a caregiver. They can direct you to the best place for care. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

5. Can I take ibuprofen or other NSAIDS for symptoms of COVID-19?  

You may have seen news reports saying that NSAIDS and ibuprofen may make COVID-19 symptoms worse. At this time, this has not been proven, and there have been no national guidelines recommending that patients should not use these medications. However, people with diabetes may have other conditions for which NSAIDS may not be recommended, such as kidney disease or high blood pressure.  

Acetaminophen is the usually the safest thing for people with diabetes to take for fever, headache or muscle aches. Please note that acetaminophen can potentially affect readings from continuous glucose monitors; talk to your healthcare provider before taking this medication. They may recommend that you check your blood sugar with finger sticks while taking acetaminophen. 

6. What other resources are available to help me manage my diabetes during this time?

In addition to virtual visits (and in-person visits if needed), your healthcare provider can arrange video visits with other members of your care team, including a dietitian or behavioral health specialist. 

Many people are finding themselves under more stress, feeling down and sad, or always anxious right now. You are not alone if you are struggling with any of these symptoms. Please reach out to your healthcare provider if you are finding it challenging to cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Note: This article was last reviewed on September 16, 2020. We will continue to update it as new information becomes available.

For the most current information

Our top priority is the health and safety of our patients, employees and visitors. HonorHealth is working closely with public health officials to stay up-to-date with the most current information and guidelines related to the Coronavirus. Visit our dedicated Coronavirus page for the latest information.

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