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COVID-19 infection increases your risk for diabetes, a new study says

Healthcare workers care for COVID-19 patients in a makeshift ICU at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on Jan. 21, 2021, in Torrance, Calif.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
Healthcare workers care for COVID-19 patients in a makeshift ICU at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on Jan. 21, 2021, in Torrance, Calif.

People who suffered from even mild cases of COVID-19 face an increased risk of being diagnosed with diabetes within a year of recovering from the illness, a new study reports.

Researchers found that people who had COVID-19 were about 40% more likely to develop diabetes within a year after recovering, compared to participants in a control group. The likelihood of developing diabetes grew if the patient suffered from a serious infection that led to hospitalization or a stay in intensive care.

"What's surprising is that it is happening in people with no prior risk factors for diabetes" before becoming infected with COVID-19, said Ziyad Al-Aly, the lead author of the study.

These latest findings add to a growing list of studies showing that people who suffered from COVID-19 are at risk of facing other long-term health problems. Those include heart and kidney ailments and chronic fatigue.

Al-Aly also helped lead the studythat showed the prevalence of cardiac issues in people who survived COVID-19 infections.

This newest study, published Monday in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal, analyzed data from more than 180,000 patients from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The study's authors compared patients who tested positive for COVID-19 and survived the illness for more than a month with more than 4 million other people who didn't contract COVID in the same period. This data was also compared with another 4.28 million patients who were treated at the VA in 2018 and 2019.

The paper states that around 1% to 2% of people who have been infected with COVID will develop diabetes as a result. That may seem like a small number, but nearly 80 million people in the U.S. have had COVID, Al-Aly told NPR — meaning 800,000 to 1.6 million people developing diabetes who might not have otherwise.

"That translates to a really significant number of people with new onset diabetes in the U.S. and many, many more around the world," Al-Aly said.

Nationwide, approximately 34 million people had diabetes pre-COVID, according to Jorge Moreno, an internal medicine physician at Yale University who didn't work on Al-Aly's study. Doctors expect roughly 1.5 million new people to be newly diagnosed with diabetes each year during normal times, he told NPR.

What to look out for

This study shows that as a nation, more attention needs to be paid to the long-term effects of COVID-19, Al-Aly said. More vigilance can start at the doctor's office.

"We need to start treating COVID as a risk factor for diabetes," Al-Aly said, adding that each person who has come down with the virus needs to be screened.

Moreno told NPR he believes this study will create more awareness among general practitioners and endocrinologists, like himself, to screen patients who have had COVID for diabetes and other complications.

Those who've had COVID should also be closely monitoring their health and changes in their body, Moreno said, and should seek help at the first sign of an issue. Major symptoms for diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination (which is not influenced by how much liquid consumed) and blurry vision. Major weight fluctuations are also a sign.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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