World Diabetes Day: How Covid-19 exposed vulnerability in people with diabetes
New Delhi: While Covid-19 spared none, people with diabetes were among the hardest hit. The infectious disease not only raised the risk of severe disease progression and death among diabetics, affecting even the recovery, it also contributed towards the burden of diabetes in the country.
World Diabetes Day is observed annually on November 14 to raise awareness on the high blood sugar condition and related consequences. India, known as the diabetes capital of the world, is home to one in six diabetics in the world. The country has also suffered significantly from Covid-19.
While on an average, diabetes reduces life expectancy by 4-10 years increasing the risk of death due to other comorbidities, which include heart attacks, kidney failures and infections, Covid infection fast forwarded that among people with diabetes.
Diabetes increased inflammatory response among Covid patients, spiking their blood sugar levels. It then complicated the course of Covid, resulting in excess morbidity and mortality, as well as posing severe challenges in the recovery of patients.
"During Covid patients were succumbing to it, not because of the original disease, but because despite all other efforts their glucose levels remained high. Thus recognising glucose as a vital sign very similar to blood pressure and pulse rate, respiratory rate, became more necessary during the pandemic," Jothydev Kesavadev from Jothydev's Diabetes Research Centres, Kerala, told IANS.
"Studies from all over the world show that the majority of the deaths from Covid were linked to high glucose values, and this includes both patients with no diabetes and with the new onset of high glucose," he added. Further, the use of steroids, to control the serious manifestations of Covid-19, worsened the glucose levels in the patients.
High blood sugar levels, coupled with increased use of steroids, also led to other complications such as an unprecedented surge in cases of mucormycosis, commonly known as black fungus. It is a fungal infection, which occurs by inhalation of spores and can disseminate to various organs rapidly.
According to a recent study, published in Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research and Reviews, more than 86 per cent of mucormycosis or black fungus cases related to Covid in India, had uncontrolled glucose values.
"While the Covid cases are closely related to diabetes, mucormycosis is also very closely related to diabetes in Covid. Whenever the glucose is high, there is a deranged immune mechanism and in the presence of an infection it is persuaded rapidly," Kesavadev said.
Another study, published in the same journal showed that people with Type-2 diabetes who also suffered Covid-19 were more likely to experience severe fatigue than those who did not have the infectious disease, emerging as a major roadblock in the recovery of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Moreover, among diabetes patients, those with increased fatigue level post Covid-19 also had increased postprandial blood glucose levels.
Covid also contributed to new onset of diabetes in many people, particularly the young. On one hand, Covid-induced lockdowns increased diabetes cases as people spent more time indoors, while eating more and exercising less. On the other hand, Covid also contributed to nearly 25 per cent rise in diabetic patients in the country, according to an analysis of OPD data from a private hospital in Delhi.
Doctors found that among patients with confirmed Covid-19 infections, there was nearly 25 per cent of new onset of diabetic patients. Stress induced hyperglycemia -- high blood sugar -- was seen in 10 per cent of patients who had Covid-19 infection.
"The younger population is increasingly affected. We have seen that happening during Covid-19 epidemic. Increasing number of young people with more severe diabetes are now being seen," Dr Anoop Misra, Fortis-C-DOC Centre of Excellence for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology, New Delhi, told IANS. As per a recent study, among the younger generation in India, below the age of 30 years, there is a rapid increase in the occurrence of diabetes over the last 10 years.
"For these, diabetes as a disease will result in complications after 10 to 15 years. Imagine a situation where more and more people are developing diabetes at the age of 25 years or 30 years, which means even during the productive age group, by the time they are 35 years or 40 years, they will start developing complications. if the disease is not treated properly," Kesavadev said.
"There is an urgent need to decrease the screening age of diabetes to 25 years, from the current 30 years, in India," Dr Misra said, adding that "there is increasing urgency to ensure that young people follow correct lifestyle practices including more exercise, correct food choices, and maintenance of weight to normal, or even leaner category".
While diabetes cannot be treated it can be controlled and reversed by adopting a healthy lifestyle, diet and having proper sleep, as well as exercising for at least half an hour every day, suggested the experts.