Increased rates of new diabetes diagnoses could be “transitory condition” due to COVID-19 stress, research suggests

A new study suggests that the stress of COVID-19 may cause a temporary form of diabetes, which explains the high number of new diabetes diagnoses throughout the pandemic.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital discovered that numerous people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and diagnosed with diabetes can see their blood sugar levels drop to normal again after being discharged.

The researchers suggest that the condition may not be new, but instead, pre-existing and undiagnosed, in several people due to their limited access to healthcare services. These individuals tended to be non-white and uninsured.

It was uncertain why there have been high rates of newly diagnosed diabetes globally throughout the pandemic. Many academics questioned whether these diagnoses are new or just undiagnosed, why blood sugar levels are raised and whether these blood sugar levels drop back to normal after COVID-19.

Dr Sara Cromer, lead author and an investigator with the Department of Medicine -Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the hospital, explained: “We believe that the inflammatory stress caused by COVID-19 may be a leading contributor to ‘new-onset’ or newly diagnosed diabetes.

“Instead of directly causing diabetes, COVID-19 may push individuals with pre-existing but undiagnosed diabetes to see a physician for the first time, where their blood sugar disorder can be clinically diagnosed. Our study showed these individuals had higher inflammatory markers and more frequently required admission to hospital ICUs than people infected with COVID-19 with pre-existing diabetes.”

The study analysed data from 594 people who had symptoms of diabetes on admission to the hospital in spring 2020. Findings have shown that 78 of the individuals had not been diagnosed with diabetes previously.

Researchers found that the newly diagnosed individuals had lower blood sugar levels, but more severe COVID-19 symptoms, compared to those with pre-existing diabetes. Around 50% of the participant’s blood sugar levels returned to normal and just eight per cent needed insulin after one year.

Dr Cromer said: “This suggests to us that newly diagnosed diabetes may be a transitory condition related to the acute stress of COVID-19 infection. Our results suggest that acute insulin resistance is the major mechanism underlying newly diagnosed diabetes in most people with COVID-19, and that insulin deficiency, if it occurs at all, is generally not permanent.

“These individuals may only need insulin or other medications for a short time, and it’s therefore critical that physicians closely follow them to see if and when their conditions improve.”

The study was published in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

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