At this point, many Americans have had and recovered from Covid-19. If you don’t suffer from long-term Covid, you most likely think it’s all behind you. However, people who had Covid-19 are at a higher risk of developing blood sugar concerns than others.
Researchers at Cedars Sinai Medical Center looked at the medical records of 23,000 adults who were infected with Covid-19 at least once. They wanted to see how likely people were to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or blood sugar concerns three months before and after their infection. As many regular appointments were missed during the pandemic, people are catching up on checkups and physicals.
Because medical concerns can progress over time, researchers understood people may have been developing blood sugar concerns before getting COVID-19. They controlled for that by looking for other, more sudden, problems like UTIs. Because of that, they could determine that the risk of developing high blood pressure or high cholesterol didn’t change. However, people who had COVID-19 were 58 percent more likely to develop blood sugar concerns.
The Omicron variant of Covid-19 was less severe than the ones before it. But it carried the same blood sugar risk.
“One might expect that with a less severe viral infection, maybe you’d have less sort of off-target effects on your cardio-metabolic system,” said lead study author Dr. Alan Kwan, a cardiologist at Cedars Sinai. “We did not really see that. We saw, essentially, the pattern held throughout.”
“It is plausible that the virus may directly act to change the body’s ability to make or use insulin,” said Dr. Luke Wander, an assistant professor of medicine at the Univ. of Washington.
This study is observational. It can only show a pattern, not cause and effect. It might be a coincidence. During the pandemic, most of us exercised a lot less, and comfort ate a lot more. It can be even harder to work out and eat right when you’re ill. It’s possible the virus itself had nothing to do with the increased risk, and it’s actually the result of being sick in bed for an extended period of time. To understand how blood sugar risks may have changed since the pandemic, a study would need to look at people’s behavior and changes to their bodies, not just their medical records.
But, the limitations of the study don’t make it meaningless. It does still have practical value. If you have had Covid-19, you should bring it up with your doctor during discussions about your blood sugar. It might be relevant information that can help you make treatment plans. “This research study helps us understand — and better prepare for — the post-COVID-19 era of cardiovascular risk,” said Dr. Kwan.
Being vaccinated at the time of infection appeared to lower the risk of developing blood sugar concerns.
We’re no longer living in a pandemic. But Covid-19 isn’t gone. It has become a dangerous but manageable virus and is likely to become a fact of life, like the flu. “As we learn how to live with COVID-19, we also have to be prepared to recognize and treat the various conditions linked to its aftereffects,” said Dr. Kwan. “Our ultimate goal — with every research study we conduct — is to find ways to keep people healthy and able to engage in their everyday activities and lives.”
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