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Coronavirus and diabetes

Coronavirus and diabetes
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Updated 29th July 2020 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the NHS website for more up to date information.

In the middle of May it was announced that (at that point in time) 26% of people who had died from COVID-19 in hospital in England were also diabetic. For people with diabetes, this is obviously very concerning. However, it’s important to bear in mind that while this number sounds high, it still represents a very small proportion of people.

As explained in this article from Diabetes UK, most people who become infected with the virus experience only mild symptoms that mean they don’t need to go into hospital. For people who are ill enough to be hospitalised, the risk of serious complications is higher amongst those with diabetes – around 3.5 times higher for people with type 1, and 2 times higher for people with type 2.

It also appears that the risk of complications is higher for older people. Very few people living with diabetes who are under 40 have died from coronavirus.

If you’re still concerned about yourself, or about a loved one who has diabetes, read on for a guide to staying safe. There are some simple things you can do to lower your risk and put your mind at rest.

I have diabetes. How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

According to the NHS, having diabetes puts you at moderate risk from COVID-19, meaning you are “clinically vulnerable”. The official NHS guidance for people at moderate risk is to follow government advice on social distancing.

When you have to leave the house, you should stay two metres away from other people and avoid touching your face. Once you get home, you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

More detailed guidance is available from the Diabetes UK website. Here the advice is tailored for people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This site also contains vital information containing the diabetes medication SGLT2i (see below).

Please note: if you received a letter from the NHS informing you that you are “clinically extremely vulnerable” and have since been shielding (i.e. not leaving your house at all), you should follow government guidelines.

Should I keep taking my diabetes medication?

Yes, unless you have been told otherwise by your doctor.

If you take SGLT2i tablets for example, you may have to stop taking this medication if your doctor advises you to, or if you become unwell with COVID-19. Please read the guidance on this page to find out more.

Tips for managing your diabetes

In addition to the guidance above, you should continue to manage your diabetes as normal. Good diabetes management includes:

  • Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Continuing with your normal medication and treatment (unless otherwise directed by your doctor)

Living a healthy lifestyle is important for everybody who has diabetes. If you’d like to know more, read our guide or Diabetes UK has some excellent resources around exercise and diet.

Monitoring your blood sugar levels

If checking your blood sugar levels is part of your normal treatment, you should keep doing this (click here to learn more about testing your blood glucose at home).

In addition, you’ll want to keep track of your symptoms, as these can be a good indication of your blood sugar levels and general health.

Hypoglycaemia & hyperglycaemia

Low blood sugar levels can be caused by injecting too much insulin or drinking alcohol without eating. High blood sugar levels can be caused by not taking your medication or eating too many carbohydrates.

Low blood sugar is known as diabetic hypoglycaemia. A “hypo” can induce the following symptoms:

  • Feeling shaky and tired
  • Feeling moody
  • Headaches
  • Hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating

High blood sugar is known as diabetic hyperglycaemia. A “hyper” can induce the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Going to the toilet regularly, including during the night
  • Generally feeling unwell

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of hypoglycaemia or hyperglycaemia, you should contact your GP by emailing or phoning their surgery. It may be that you need to have your medication adjusted.

For tips on how to manage hypo or hyper symptoms, read our guide.

References

www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/people-at-higher-risk-from-coronavirus/whos-at-higher-risk-from-coronavirus
www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/coronavirus#home
www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing#clinically-vulnerable-people
www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/testing