COVID-19 patients more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease - study

Instances of diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases were found to be significantly higher than average in the 12 weeks following infection.

   COVID-19 rapid antigen test (photo credit: PIXABAY)
COVID-19 rapid antigen test
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

People who have been infected with COVID-19 are at increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus (DM) and cardiovascular diseases (CVD), a study has found. Researchers from King’s College London investigated whether a sample of those who were at one time infected with COVID-19 developed diabetes and heart disease at a higher rate than those who were never infected, and found that the answer was in the affirmative, but only in the short term.

In the peer-reviewed study published in PLOS Medicine, researchers analyzed the medical records of close to 430,000 patients who did not have DM or CVD matched with an equal number of control patients from 1,356 family clinics across the UK. Researchers accounted for differences in differences in age, ethnicity, smoking habits, body mass index, blood pressure and other factors among patients.

The study sought to determine whether the incidence of new DM and CVD was higher for those who had been infected with COVID-19 over a 12-month period, which it successfully achieved.

“Use of a large, national database of electronic health records from primary care has enabled us to characterize the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus during the acute and longer-term phases following Covid-19 infection,”

Dr. Emma Rezel-Potts, the study's lead author

“Use of a large, national database of electronic health records from primary care has enabled us to characterize the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus during the acute and longer-term phases following Covid-19 infection,” Dr. Emma Rezel-Potts, the study’s lead author, explained in a press release. 

 SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19 (Illustrative). (credit: fusion medical animation/unsplash) SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19 (Illustrative). (credit: fusion medical animation/unsplash)

COVID-19 resulted in a significantly increased risk of diabetes

Diagnoses of diabetes were 81% higher than average during the four weeks following COVID-19 infection, remaining elevated by 27% for the following eight weeks. However, the risk of developing DM decreased after this 12-week period, returning to normal 23 weeks after infection. The authors of the study, therefore, advised that those recovering from COVID-19 should take measures to decrease their risk of developing diabetes, such as maintaining a proper diet, managing body weight and engaging in physical activity. 

Dr. Rezel-Potts recommended that healthcare professionals intervene as well. “Clinical and public health interventions focusing on reducing diabetes risk among those recovering from Covid-19 over the longer term may be very beneficial,” she said in the release.

Cardiovascular diseases were even more prevalent

Cardiovascular diseases were a far more common development. Patients with acute COVID-19 were 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with CVD, primarily due to the development of blood clots and irregular heartbeats. Pulmonary embolism was especially prevalent, with an 11-fold increase during infection. In the weeks immediately following infection, the risk of developing new heart conditions remained elevated by 50%. The incidence declined between four to 12 weeks after infection, returning to baseline levels between 12 weeks and one year post-infection.

Physicians ought to be vigilant

Although the study concluded that those without pre-existing DM and CVD generally do not face an increased risk of developing the conditions in the long term, the data gleaned suggests that the 3 months following infection should be closely monitored by physicians. 

“The information provided by this very large population-based study on the longer-term effects of COVID-19 on development of cardiovascular conditions and diabetes will be extremely valuable to doctors managing the millions of people who have had COVID-19 by now,” Professor Ajay Shah, British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiology and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine at King’s College, said in the release. “It is clear that particular vigilance is required for at least the first 3 months after COVID-19.”