People with diabetes have higher hospitalization and mortality rates if infected with COVID-19 than people without diabetes. They are also more likely to experience severe symptoms and complications from the coronavirus than someone without diabetes. It is important for diabetics to understand what can be done to protect themselves if they become infected with COVID-19, as well as know some proactive steps they can take to prepare for that possibility. This advice is especially important as Connecticut experiences an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and faces a potential second lockdown.
“It is important for people with diabetes to not only be aware of basic steps such as hand washing, wearing a mask and social distancing to help prevent them from contracting COVID-19, but also to be prepared if they do become infected,” said Yasmine Khan, MD, a board-certified ECHN endocrinologist. “If a diabetic contracts COVID-19, they should contact their doctor so they can help them manage their diabetes during their illness.”
Here are some key steps people with diabetes should be taking during the pandemic, according to Dr. Khan:
- Write your medications and your diabetes doctor’s contact information on a card and carry it with you at all times. “Diabetics need to have an accurate list of their medications on hand at all times,” she said. “If you were to be hospitalized for COVID-19, the physicians treating you for the coronavirus will need to know what medications you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, so they can care for you effectively.” Some diabetes medications, such as metformin, increase the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by a lack of insulin, and physicians may want to discontinue use while having COVID-19. Check with your physician before changing or stopping any medications. Including the name of your diabetes doctor on your card is also critical so the physician treating you for COVID-19 can consult with them.
- Monitor your blood sugar levels and stay in close contact with your diabetes doctor if you contract COVID-19. “Make sure you develop a plan with your doctor beforehand,” said Dr. Khan. “As with any illness, but particularly with COVID-19, your blood sugar levels will be affected if you contract the coronavirus. If you are sick at home, you will need to be able to monitor your blood sugar levels independently.” Patients should write down their blood sugar levels and give this information to their physician so he or she can adjust their medication regimen, if needed. “Anorexia or gastrointestinal problems are common problems with COVID-19 so a diabetic patient would need their insulin doses to be tailored to their appetite and their blood sugar level,” she explained.
- Make sure you have enough medication and supplies at home in case of a second lockdown. “If you are diabetic, you need to have at least two to three weeks’ worth of your diabetes medication on hand, as well as other supplies such as insulin pumps, glucometers and injectables readily available,” said Dr. Khan. If you contract COVID-19 and have to isolate at home, it is also important to make sure you have enough food – including juices, sodas or other high-sugar items – that you can easily access to raise blood sugar levels back to normal, in the chance you become hypoglycemic.
- If you have an elderly family member with diabetes and COVID-19, you need a contingency plan. If an elderly family member with diabetes contracts COVID-19, they may be unable to care for themselves. In that case, other family members need to be able to jump in and help. The designated caregiver should have a copy of the card listing the patient’s medications and diabetes doctor’s contact information and be able to pass along any information about the patient’s blood sugar levels, if needed. “The contingency plan should also make sure there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the home so the family members are able to safely care for the elderly diabetic patient.” said Dr. Khan.
Be sure to talk with your doctor to help you set up a care plan if you have diabetes and end up contracting COVID-19. To learn more about coronavirus and its symptoms, please review our COVID Resource Page.