The Role High Blood Sugar Plays with COVID-19 for People with Diabetes

April 02,2020 |
Man in Kitchen

The Role High Blood Sugar Plays with COVID-19 for People with Diabetes

It seems like with each passing day, COVID-19 becomes more and more integrated into our lives. It’s nearly impossible to turn on the television without getting bombarded with the newest information about transmission rates, elongated shelter-in-place initiatives, or the drastic shortcomings of our healthcare system. For now, COVID-19 is here to stay and those living in a high-risk category have more to worry about. Unfortunately, diabetes is an underlying health condition that is greatly affected by current strain of coronavirus.

Coronaviruses actually encompass an entire family of viruses. Most coronaviruses are unique to animals, but some strains have infected and spread through human-to-human contact. In the past, this was MERS and SARS, now it’s COVID-19. In this article, we’ll discuss the role high blood sugar plays with COVID-19 for people with diabetes and what to do to reduce the chances of exposure and serious complications.

What’s the Link Between People with Diabetes and COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease that attacks the respiratory system. Its incubation period lasts anywhere from 2 to 14 days and many people experience at least mild symptoms. As with any illness, there are some people who seem to be asymptomatic and others who develop severe, life-threatening symptoms. If you have diabetes, you’re aware of the potential risks and complications of getting the flu.1 These same risks apply to getting COVID-19.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing respiratory illnesses like the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19 due to fluctuating glucose levels.1 When glucose levels continue to fluctuate, or are elevated consistently (high blood sugar), the body has a lower immune response and provides much less protection against the disease.1 Because of this, COVID-19 may thrive in an environment of elevated blood sugar.2 Combine this with a slower healing time due to chronic inflammation and it makes sense that people with diabetes with have more severe symptoms and difficulty recovering from COVID-19.2

Complications of COVID-19 in People with Diabetes

If you notice any signs or symptoms of COVID-19—high fever, dry cough, or a shortness of breath—call your doctor immediately. Do not try to go into a hospital or medical facility without calling. Protocols all over the world are much different right now to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and you’ll want to make sure that you understand them to limit exposure and reduce further transmission. This is for both your safety and the safety of others. However, it’s still important to call your doctor as soon as you feel sick or notice an elevated temperature. Some of the potential complications of COVID-19 in people with diabetes include diabetic ketoacidosis, pneumonia, dehydration, and high blood sugar.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when someone with diabetes doesn’t have enough insulin available to deal with high blood sugar levels.2 From here, the body starts to break down fats to use for energy. The breakdown of fats leads to ketones in your blood, which in turn make it more acidic.2 The more acidic your blood is, the more things that can go wrong in your body. In diabetics, ketoacidosis can be life threatening and requires immediate medical attention.


People with diabetes are at a higher risk for developing pneumonia from COVID-19 because their bodies are already in a mild state of inflammation. Pneumonia, which is an infection that leads to inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs, is already very dangerous.2 As we’ve seen in the news, most serious cases of COVID-19 require ventilators, which are currently in shortage across the country.


If you have diabetes, you’re no stranger to dehydration. People with diabetes are more prone to dehydration and therefore require additional precautions. If you become infected with COVID-19, you’ll be even more dehydrated—which can cause serious complications. Severe dehydration is fatal.

High Blood Sugar

Diabetics already have to be careful about high blood pressure, but if they become infected with COVID-19 this gets even more serious. Infections cause a stress response in the body, which increases glucose production.2 This leads to even higher blood sugar levels, which will require extra insulin.2 If you haver COVID-19, make sure to check your blood sugar levels more often to manage any sudden spikes. 

We also want to mention that while there’s no direct link between diabetes and death from COVID-19, there have been higher fatalities among those with diabetes as a preexisting condition.1 It was found that 10.5% of patients with cardiovascular disease died after contracting COVID-19 and 6.3% of patients with chronic respiratory disease died after infection.1 For comparison, it’s been shown that about 7.3% of people with diabetes have passed away after contracting COVID-19.1 To help lower your risk of serious complications or even death, it’s important to take as many precautions as possible during these uncertain times. 

Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 in People with Diabetes

While more than 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild, your risk for serious complications increases if you have a preexisting condition like diabetes. To help reduce the risk of catching this illness, it’s important to take the proper precautionary methods. It should be mentioned that all of these precautionary methods are the same for people living without preexisting conditions aside from the diabetes-specific preventative measures we’ll list.

People with diabetes should follow the general guidelines put in place by the World Health Organization to reduce the risk of COVID-19. This includes practicing safe, social distancing of at least six feet between you and other people while in public, washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your face. If you do feel sick, stay home and don’t go out. If you cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow. While there is a lot of speculation as to whether or not you should be wearing a face mask, the CDC has recommended that you use some sort of face mask or covering when in public to reduce community-based transmission.1 If you do decide to wear a face mask and/or gloves, make sure that you’re doing so properly to avoid giving yourself a false sense of security.

Diabetes-Specific COVID-19 Preventative Measures

In addition to the above, people with diabetes should make sure to pay even more attention to their daily management routine. If you regularly self-monitor your blood glucose levels, do so more often throughout the day to make sure that they’re stable.3

Make sure that you’re staying hydrated, regardless of how you feel. Since people with diabetes tend to be more prone to dehydration, make sure that you have a consistent source of drinkable water and electrolyte-rich beverages.1 It’s also recommended to use a humidifier if your house is overly dry. Creating a humid environment will make sure that your nasal passages are well equipped to handle potential virus’ from penetrating the body.1

Diabetes Distress During COVID-19

While not a physical effect of COVID-19 itself, diabetes distress is a very real thing that can be made worse during stressful times. Not only is social isolation impacting the wellbeing of everyone during these times, but people with diabetes may be feeling particularly stressed or anxious. This can be dangerous, as diabetes distress can lead to poor diabetes management. For more information on diabetes distress, click here.

Diabetes Management During COVID-19

If you do happen to get sick, diabetes management is crucial. It becomes a lot more challenging to manage your glucose levels, but it’s also more important because of potential side effects. If you don’t control your blood sugar levels, the virus will use the elevated blood sugar as fuel to multiply and intensify.1 To make sure that you’re staying as safe as possible, always stay up to date on your vaccinations.

  • Stock up on Supplies
  • Look into Virtual Medical Plans
  • Take All Recommended Precautions
  • Designate an Emergency Contact


Managing diabetes on a regular day is hard enough—managing diabetes during a pandemic seems impossible. With the right preventative action, you can drastically diminish your chances of getting COVID-19 and any serious side effects. If you do notice any symptoms of COVID-19, reach out to your doctor immediately. Always continue to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels. If you need any blood glucose meters or continuous glucose monitoring devices, Byram Healthcare has you covered. We’re proud to provide you with the latest technology in diabetes management, including continuous glucose monitoring. We’ll work with your insurance provider and doctor to ensure you’re supported from start to finish, maximizing your coverage while minimizing out-of-pocket expenses. For more information and added support on diabetes management, take advantage of Byram Healthcare’s Caring Touch At Home Program. We focus on providing exceptional customer service and top-of-the-line brand name products while lowering your overhead costs. The Caring Touch At Home Program combines convenience, affordability, and choice to deliver extensive service and support to everyone living with diabetes. 

For added support, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Byram’s Diabetes Center of Excellence—a one source, total solution for diabetes care. Our Center of Excellence combines high quality products with clinical and educational research to help you better manage your condition, support all of your needs, and live a long, healthy life.