What to Know About Diabetes and COVID-19

Nalani Haviland, PA-C
The author in her white doctor jacket
The author in her white doctor jacket

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has been officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Health experts around the world have asked us to act; avoid crowds, stock up on supplies (within reason), stay home, give up our jobs, physical relationships, cancel weddings, funerals and doctor’s appointments all to prevent the spread of this infection. We PWD (people with diabetes) with have been deemed “high risk” and we need to take extra care to ensure our safety.

Clearly, this scenario has significant impacts on our physical and economic well-being, but it has also created unique challenges in mental health; particularly for those of us prone to already anxious behaviors.

I’ve been very open on this platform about my own struggles with mental health and anxiety and so I thought I’d share and invite you to share tips on how you are navigating through this stressful time. We need to find ways to relate to each other and make this scary journey not so lonely.

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One of the most important ways I have been able to control my anxiety is by limiting myself to reputable resources only. I realize that for many of you, I am that reputable resources so here’s what I know…

General information:

  • COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations are changing rapidly.

  • COVID-19 is spread by person to person contact and by respiratory droplets. The CDC recommends a six-foot distance between people who are in close contact.

  • To protect yourself, wash your hands, avoid touching your face and mouth, distance yourself, stay home if you’re sick, wear a face mask if you’re sick, clean and disinfect (CDC).

  • If you are not sick, the CDC does not recommend that you wear a face mask. Please. The face masks are in short supply and should be saved for caregivers and for people who are sick.

For people with diabetes:

  • The problem with diabetes and COVID-19 is more that of outcome than of susceptibility to the disease, especially if the diabetes is well managed (ADA)

  • The risk of infection and poor outcomes increases with the addition of other comorbid conditions, which include diabetes related complications such as heart disease (ADA).

  • People with diabetes and an infection are at increased risk for DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) which can affect electrolyte levels and lead to an increased risk for sepsis and septic shock (ADA). It is essential that PWD recognize the symptoms of DKA and seek help immediately. These symptoms include but aren’t limited to altered mental status, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (frequent thirst), polyphagia (frequent hunger), generalized weakness, fruity odor and weight loss. If these symptoms are present and/or blood glucose level is high (>240mg/dl), check ketones!

  • According to manufacturers, COVID-19 will not have an impact on supply and distribution of diabetes supplies (CDC). Yay!

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To help ease anxiety: make a plan!

  • Keep your clinician’s contact info and a list of medications readily available.

  • Stock up on a one to two weeks supply of low snacks, medications, rubbing alcohol and soap.

  • Have glucagon and ketone test strips available.

  • Talk with your clinician about when they should be contacted. Ask about telehealth! We are doing it at my clinic!

  • Understand COVID-19 symptoms; shortness of breath, cough, fever, chest pressure, confusion, flush lips/face. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your provider immediately and keep careful track of your blood glucose levels.

  • If you test positive for COVID-19 and quarantine is necessary, call someone! You may be physically isolated, but you are certainly not mentally or emotionally isolated! Please reach out to loved ones. This also applies to those who are voluntarily quarantined, are staying home or just feel alone in general during this crisis.

Make your physical health and your mental health a priority. Though we cannot definitively say what the future holds, it is incredibly important to remember that you are not alone and we will get through this!

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If you have any other tips, please leave them in the comments!

The above information was taken from the World Health Organization (WHO), The Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) all of which are very good resources.

Stay safe everyone!

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