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Coronavirus and Diabetes

March 10, 2020
Coronavirus and Diabetes | What to Know - Lark Health

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People living with diabetes are in one of the high-risk groups for being impacted by coronavirus, as health officials have warned about risks for people with "underlying health conditions." Those with diabetes should be informed about the risks of coronavirus (COVID-19).

COVID-19, the most recent strain of coronavirus, has taken over the news. While the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says the risk for exposure to coronavirus is currently "thought to be low," the number of cases is likely to grow [1]. Everyone should be prepared, and here is what you can do to protect yourself.

Risk of Coronavirus with Diabetes

Data so far show two trends [2, 3, 4]:

  1. People with diabetes are more likely to get sick with coronavirus.
  2. People with diabetes are more likely to develop the most serious cases of coronavirus.

Both of these effects are consistent with other respiratory illnesses. Diabetes and high blood sugar impair the immune response in different ways, including by reducing the effectiveness of various immune cells [5]. This means having diabetes with uncontrolled blood sugar raises the risk for infections, and, apparently, that includes risk for COVID-19 infection.

Diabetes also raises the risk of getting a serious case of coronavirus, which means needing supporting care such as ventilation or hospitalization, or dying from it. The approximate risk is about 59% higher than the general population, and climbs still higher for someone with other conditions, such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. 

Standard Prevention Practices

The same things that can help prevent the spread of coronavirus in the general population can help lower your risk of getting sick. These are standard precautions for avoiding any contagious respiratory infection and are recommended by the CDC [6].

  • Wash your hands frequently, including after using the bathroom, being in a public place, or coughing or sneezing, and before eating.
  • Greet people with elbow bumps or bows instead of handshakes or hugs.
  • Use a tissue or your sleeve to touch high-traffic surfaces in public areas, such as door knobs, elevator buttons, and stair banisters.
  • Avoid touching your face, since germs can enter through the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean your home and phone thoroughly with disinfectants.

The CDC also suggests avoiding crowds and indoor gatherings when you can. Some strategies can include:

  • Watching sports events on TV instead of in person.
  • Streaming religious services online instead of in your regular place of worship.
  • Asking others to bring essentials, such as groceries and household items.
  • Use video chats to keep in touch instead of going to large gatherings.

Getting Prepared 

Having a plan for what might happen if you get sick can give you peace of mind now and help you get better faster in the case that you do get infected with COVID-19. Contacting your primary care doctor now can give you information about whom to call or where to go should you feel sick. 

It is important to have a list of phone numbers on hand so you can contact family members or friends quickly. You may also need to have a plan for having a caregiver. Having certain supplies on hand now can ensure that you do not run out should you get sick. These include food, household items, diabetes and any other medications, and diabetes testing supplies.

Boosting Your Immune System

There are steps you can take to boost your immune system and lower your risk for getting infected.  First comes controlling blood sugar. High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, makes your immune system weaker. Lark can coach you in making lifestyle choices that improve blood sugar control, including monitoring and responding to blood sugar and following trends, making the nutrition decisions that follow, staying relatively active, and taking medications.

Many healthy lifestyle choices can strengthen the immune system. Fortunately, most of them can also improve blood sugar control. These are a few of them: 

  • Getting plenty of vitamin C and antioxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Getting adequate sleep, which is 8 hours for most adults.
  • Being physically active, and striving for at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Managing stress.
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol.

Lark can help with these changes and guide you in making small steps to establish habits that last for the long-term.

Special Precautions with Diabetes

In addition to the steps that everyone can take, managing blood sugar is one of the most important steps someone with diabetes can take to lower risk for COVID-19 infection. Hyperglycemia interferes with the immune response, so keeping blood sugar down to safe levels can help. 

Whether you are always vigilant or you have room for improvement, Lark can be by your side as you take charge.

  • Monitoring blood sugar as often as your doctor suggests.
  • Checking your blood sugar trends and linking them to actions such as healthy eating or extra activity with Lark.
  • Choosing lower-sugar foods and beverages, and having more vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Adding bits of physical activity to your day to keep insulin sensitivity higher.
  • Taking medications as prescribed.

What If You Get Sick?

Common symptoms of coronavirus include coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. The intuitive thing to do may be to go to the doctor or emergency room when you get sick, but that may not be the first step to take. Instead, calling your doctor is safer if you have mild symptoms and suspect that you have coronavirus because going to a clinic or other facility:

  • It can expose you to sicker people who can share their germs
  • You can spread coronavirus to others if you have it
  • It can divert needed resources away from more serious conditions

Other steps to take are to avoid contact with others however possible, such as driving yourself rather than taking public transportation and sneezing into an elbow.

Anytime your body is fighting an infection, blood sugar control can be more difficult as hormone levels in your body change as part of the immune response. Hyperglycemia is more likely. Ask your doctor how often to test blood sugar, but it may be as often as every few hours even if you normally test less frequently. Using Lark can help you stay on top of your blood sugar, medications, and carbohydrate intake without needing to expose yourself to others.

When to Go to the Doctor

There are some cases when you may need medical attention urgently. These can include excessively high blood sugar. Signs that have been linked to serious COVID-19 infections and require medical attention include:

  • Trouble breathing or bluish face indicating inadequate oxygen levels
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to develop, the best things you can do are to keep yourself informed and to prepare. Preparing includes controlling your diabetes as well as possible, boosting your immune system and avoiding germs as much as you can, and planning ahead in case you do get sick. Lark can help you with your healthy habits without coming into contact with any germs, and may be your best 24/7 health partner right now!

About Lark

Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.

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