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The One COVID-19 Risk Factor That Can Make Your Symptoms Worse

People with this pre-existing condition may be at a greater risk of experiencing serious complications.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, people who are members of at-risk groups should take particular care to practice social distancing and other safety measures. According to a study by researchers at Wuhan Union Hospital published in the journal Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews, if you have diabetes and contract COVID-19, you could be at a higher risk for severe illness.

In a study of 174 patients with a median age of 59 who were confirmed to have COVID-19, researchers found that patients who had diabetes but no other serious health problems were "more susceptible to an inflammatory storm eventually leading to rapid deterioration of COVID‐19."

For the 24 patients with COVID-19 and diabetes, they "were at higher risk of severe pneumonia, release of tissue injury-related enzymes, excessive uncontrolled inflammation responses, and dysregulation of glucose metabolism" compared to patients without diabetes. Analyzing CT chest images from patients with diabetes, the researchers found significant pathological changes in the lungs compared to the lungs of non-diabetes patients.

The study authors concluded their research by stating that those who have diabetes and contract COVID-19 are "more likely to progress into a worse prognosis. Therefore, diabetes might be considered as a risk factor for the outcome of SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia, and more intensive attention should be paid to patients with diabetes, in case of rapid deterioration."

Are you at risk?

Of the more than 30 million people in the United States with diabetes, an estimated 7.2 million are undiagnosed, according to the National Institutes of Health. Significantly more, an estimated 84.1 million adults over age 18—nearly 34 percent of the adult population—have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar or A1C levels, which reflect average blood glucose levels, are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. The CDC believes 90 percent of people with prediabetes don't know they have it.

If you haven't had an A1C test or another blood test to measure your blood sugar, you may have prediabetes and not be aware of it, putting you at greater risk for serious complications should you contract COVID-19.

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How can you minimize your risk of severe symptoms?

Want to make sure you're not putting yourself at risk? Knowledge is your first line of defense. By knowing the risk factors and understanding how high blood sugar happens in your body and develops into diabetes, you can take action long before a doctor needs to get involved.

If you are concerned you may have prediabetes or diabetes, consider these common risk factors: Age (people over 45 are at increased risk; those over 65 are at much greater risk); excess abdominal fat (the risk rises for men with a waist circumference above 40 inches or women with a waist circumference above 35 inches); high blood pressure or a history of heart disease; inactivity; a family history of diabetes (which increases your risk by 26 percent), and race or ethnicity (people of some racial groups are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes).

If you have two or more of those risk factors, you are at high risk of type 2 diabetes and should see your family doctor to be tested for high blood sugar. In the meantime, try incorporating these 50 Best Foods for Diabetics into your diet and take extra precautions to social distance and lower your risk of contracting COVID-19.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. Read more about Jeff
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