Understanding Long-COVID’s Impact on Diabetes Rates

When COVID-19 first took the world by storm, there was no way to predict the potential long-term health complications that it would cause. While the focus has primarily been on what happens upon contracting COVID-19, more needs to be done on what happens in the long term. A recent study of almost 200,000 people showed that those who get COVID-19 have a greater risk of developing diabetes up to a year later, even after a mild SARS-CoV-2 infection, compared to those who never had the disease.

In this blog, we interview our very own Lisa Parker, MSN, FNP-C, BC-ADM, MHP, who shares her experience with treating patients with diabetes and the increased diabetes rates she’s seen in long-COVID patients.

Can you start by telling us more about yourself and your role at OnePeak Medical?

I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Nursing from the University of Southern Mississippi and have been a practicing Family Nurse Practitioner for over thirteen years. I am also certified through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and a board-certified Advanced Diabetes Manager through the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES). I help patients develop individualized nutrition and lifestyle modification plans to prevent and reverse metabolic syndrome – the root cause of obesity, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease.

Have you seen an uptick in long-COVID patients being diagnosed with diabetes?

Yes, and specifically with type 2 diabetes. Regarding COVID, I have seen an onset of autoimmune diabetes (type 1.5) in non-autoimmune patients and an increase in patients with type 2 diabetes as well – not sure if this is related to COVID or due to a lack of physical movement brought on by the pandemic.

What is the connection between long-COVID and diabetes? Why is long-COVID causing diabetes diagnoses to increase?

There is certainly an association between the two. When we’re talking about type 2 diabetes, it’s not caused by obesity. For patients with pre-existing diabetes and obesity, COVID seems to affect them the worst. They can’t get over the symptoms and, as a result, develop complications. COVID and diabetes seem to feed each other.

What are some of the symptoms you’ve seen in patients that have experienced diabetes as a result of long-COVID?

Both of my patients with type 1.5 diabetes had acute diabetes symptoms – weight loss, frequent urination, and visual issues from high blood sugar. However, type 2 diabetes patients seemed to experience increased weight. If they were diagnosed before contracting COVID, their blood sugars increased, and the medicines they were once taking are now not as effective. They also experience slow-healing wounds, infections that don’t want to clear, the onset of other infections, recurrent viral infections, GI symptoms, and worsening fatigue due to long-COVID.

Do you have any recommendations/advice for long-COVID patients, and is there a possibility of preventing diabetes?

Type 2 is preventable and reversible. First, people must know if they’re on the spectrum, as diabetes is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether. Diabetes can develop for 10-20 years with high insulin issues in the background. Often, patients come in due to weight gain and don’t know they are even on the diabetic spectrum. If you can diagnose the cause – high insulin levels – you can reverse it. This can help the patient lose weight for the first time and avoid the complications of diabetes.

How can OnePeak Medical, and you specifically, help patients who may be experiencing diabetes as a result of long-COVID?

We can help by appropriately diagnosing. Knowing where our patients are on the spectrum is essential. By knowing this, we can work to reverse the process that led them to a diabetes diagnosis and implement holistic approaches like focusing on therapeutic hydration restriction and intermittent fasting, as these aid in decreasing the symptoms.  

Diet and supplementation also help. Patients need to be appropriately diagnosed, which unfortunately doesn’t tend to happen. A primary care provider in conventional medicine regularly misses it. Conventional medicine sees diabetes as a chronic, progressional disease, and, as a result, they’re treating the blood sugar, not the problem (insulin). Eventually, I predict the functional medicine approach will be a standard care regimen, not only used in functional medicine. 

Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you feel is essential to highlight regarding long-COVID and diabetes?

You should be seen if you’ve had COVID, have worse fatigue than normal, and haven’t had a check-up in a while. We’ll do a thorough assessment to better understand what might be happening with you. It could be the patient is on the diabetes spectrum. If you don’t know your problem, you won’t know how to fix it. Find out what’s going on with you. Ensure you’re being appropriately diagnosed and have a chance to be properly treated. 

Diabetes is a pandemic of its own, and a vast majority of people affected by it don’t know they have it. Most people in the global population are expected to be on the diabetes spectrum in the coming years. Where COVID is now leveling off, we’re seeing diabetes worsening. Diabetes will create a whole host of other issues as it affects every system in the body. 

Set up an appointment online today!

If you feel that you could be on the diabetes spectrum, do not wait to be seen. Get ahold of your healthcare provider sooner than later. Ask your local OnePeak Medical provider for a referral to see Lisa for additional metabolic health care. Lisa is available to see patients in person at our Ashland, OR clinic or virtually from the comfort of your home. Book your appointment online today.

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