More Data Link Unmanaged Diabetes, High Glucose to Severe COVID-19

Andrew D. Bowser

June 27, 2021

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Unmanaged diabetes and high blood glucose levels are linked to more severe COVID-19 and worse rates of recovery, according to results of a retrospective study.

Patients not managing their diabetes with medication had more severe COVID-19 and length of hospitalization, compared with those who were taking medication, investigator Sudip Bajpeyi, PhD, said at the annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association.

In addition, patients with higher blood glucose levels had more severe COVID-19 and longer hospital stays.

Those findings underscore the need to assess, monitor, and control blood glucose, especially in vulnerable populations, said Bajpeyi, director of the Metabolic, Nutrition, and Exercise Research Laboratory in the University of Texas, El Paso, who added that nearly 90% of the study subjects were Hispanic.

"As public health decisions are made, we think fasting blood glucose should be considered in the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients," he said in a press conference.

Links Between Diabetes and COVID-19

There are now many reports in medical literature that link diabetes to increased risk of COVID-19 severity, according to Ali Mossayebi, a master's student who worked on the study. However, there are fewer studies that have looked specifically at the implications of poor diabetes management or acute glycemic control, the investigators said.

It's known that poorly controlled diabetes can have severe health consequences, including higher risks for life-threatening comorbidities, they added.

Their retrospective study focused on medical records from 364 patients with COVID-19 admitted to a medical center in El Paso. Their mean age was 60 years, and their mean body mass index was 30.3 kg/m2; 87% were Hispanic.

Acute glycemic control was assessed by fasting blood glucose at the time of hospitalization, while chronic glycemic control was assessed by hemoglobin A1c, the investigators said. Severity of COVID-19 was measured with the Sequential (Sepsis-Related) Organ Failure Assessment (qSOFA), which is based on the patient's respiratory rate, blood pressure, and mental status.

Impact of Unmanaged Diabetes and High Blood Glucose

Severity of COVID-19 severity and length of hospital stay were significantly greater in patients with unmanaged diabetes, as compared with those who reported that they managed their diabetes with medication, Bajpeyi and coinvestigators found.

Among patients with unmanaged diabetes, the mean qSOFA score was 0.22, as compared with 0.44 for patients with managed diabetes. The mean length of hospital stay was 10.8 days for patients with unmanaged diabetes and 8.2 days for those with medication-managed diabetes, according to the abstract.

COVID-19 severity and hospital stay length were highest among patients with acute glycemia, the investigators further reported in an electronic poster that was part of the ADA meeting proceedings.

The mean qSOFA score was about 0.6 for patients with blood glucose levels of at least 126 mg/dL and A1c below 6.5%, and roughly 0.2 for those with normal blood glucose and normal A1c. Similarly, duration of hospital stay was significantly higher for patients with high blood glucose and A1c as compared with those with normal blood glucose and A1c.

Aggressive Treatment Needed

Dr Rodolfo J. Galindo

Findings of this study are in line with previous research showing that in-hospital hyperglycemia is a common and important marker of poor clinical outcome and mortality, with or without diabetes, according to Rodolfo J. Galindo, MD, FACE, medical chair of the hospital diabetes task force at Emory Healthcare System, Atlanta.

"These patients need aggressive treatment of hyperglycemia, regardless of the diagnosis of diabetes or A1c value," said Galindo, who was not involved in the study. "They also need outpatient follow-up after discharge, because they may develop diabetes soon after."

Follow-up within is important because roughly 30% of patients with stress hyperglycemia (increases in blood glucose during an acute illness) will develop diabetes within a year, according to Galindo.

"We do not know in COVID-10 patients if it is only 30%," he said, "Our thinking in our group is that it's probably higher."

Bajpeyi and coauthors reported no disclosures. Galindo reported disclosures related to Abbott Diabetes, Boehringer Ingelheim International, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi US, Valeritas, and Dexcom.

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