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Diabetes and COVID-19

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

34.2 million Americans are living with diabetes in the U.S. Millions more, 88 million to be exact, have been diagnosed with prediabetes. Diabetics and prediabetics are at higher risk for serious complications like heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputation.

28-year-old Ann Carylsen is one of them. She was classified as prediabetic at her last doctor’s visit. Her blood sugar level isn’t high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes yet, but she is at high risk for developing the disease.

“I had absolutely no idea until I went to my doctor, because my husband and I wanted to start a family,” said Carylsen. “I just wanted to make sure my health was the best it could be before I got pregnant.”

Carylsen’s doctor warned her not to try and conceive until she was able to get her blood sugar under control. Fortunately, the Florida native was able to accomplish that by making simple changes in her diet and carving out time for regular exercise.

“I feel really lucky, because my doctor caught it early. I have no family history of diabetes, and it never occurred to me that I could have it. Now, my blood sugar is perfectly normal, and my husband and I are so excited to start a family.”

It is even more important now for the millions of people living with diabetes to manage their disease in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. People with diabetes are not more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population, but they are at risk for more severe outcomes. And the more health conditions someone has, the greater their risk.

For example, someone with diabetes and heart disease is much more likely to experience serious, even life-threatening, symptoms if they contract COVID-19. People with diabetes have much higher rates of serious complications and death than people without diabetes.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates blood sugar which provides energy to the cells. Without insulin, cells starve and eventually die.

People with type 1 diabetes aren’t able to make insulin at all and rely on manufactured insulin to survive. Type 2 diabetics are able to make their own insulin but don’t make enough or have difficulty controlling it. They can often control their blood sugar by watching their diet and exercising regularly.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes can manage their disease, and in some cases, achieve normal blood sugar levels with lifestyle changes. That’s why it’s especially important to learn what may put you at higher risk for developing it.

  • Excess weight

  • Fat distribution. If you store fat mainly in your abdomen, you have a greater risk of type 2 diabetes than if you store fat in your hips and thighs.

  • Inactivity

  • Family history. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases if your parent or sibling has it.

  • Age. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases as you get older, especially after age 45.

  • Gestational diabetes. If you developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases.

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome

  • Areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits and neck. This can indicate insulin resistance.

Of course, some people may develop type 2 diabetes without having any of the risk factors. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a blood sugar imbalance and talk to your doctor.

Symptoms of Diabetes

Certain warning signs may indicate your blood sugar is running high and jeopardizing your health. Learn what to watch out for:

· Urinating more frequently

· Unusual and excessive thirst

· Unexplained weight loss

· Hunger, even after eating

· Blurry vision

· Tingling in the hands or feet

· Fatigue

· Dry skin

· Sores that heal slowly

You may not have all of these symptoms but experiencing even one or two for longer than a few days is cause for concern. Trust your body.

Preventing Diabetes

As we’ve discussed, it is possible for some people to prevent or reverse diabetes with lifestyle changes, paying special attention to fitness and nutrition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found people who lost five- to seven percent of their body weight and added 150 minutes of exercise a week cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent!

Healthy changes don’t have to be hard changes. Replace sugary sodas with sparkling water and watch your portion sizes. Get outside and walk for a few minutes every day. If you can’t walk for 30 minutes once a day, walk for ten minutes three times a day. Smart watches can help you keep track of your activity by counting your steps and monitoring your heart rate.

Regulating your blood sugar level is even more important now, because we’re learning how devastating COVID-19 can be for people with certain medical conditions. Diabetics are already at a higher risk for heart disease and strokes. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in people with diabetes.

Adding a viral infection like COVID-19 adds more stress to the heart and circulatory system. People with diabetes can mitigate their risk by keeping blood sugars at normal levels and making sure that any other health issues they have, like hypertension or heart disease, are being treated appropriately.

Once diagnosed as prediabetic, Ann Carylsen follows the news as COVID-19 continues to spread around the world. She is hyper-aware she might be at a higher risk for life-threatening complications if she contracts the virus.

“Originally, I just wanted to get my blood sugar down to a normal level so I could get pregnant,” said Carylsen. “But now, it’s even more serious than that. I have to watch what I eat and make sure I get out here every day and walk. If I don’t, I could very easily become a full-blown diabetic. If that happens, I’m more vulnerable to COVID and a lot more likely to get really sick from it”.

John Hancock Aspire

John Hancock Aspire combines the long-term financial protection your clients want, with a personalized diabetes support program that meets the unique health and lifestyle needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and rewards them for taking steps to manage their condition and live a longer, healthier life.

Learn more about John Hancock Aspire at here.

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