Post-COVID Diabetes Might Only Be Temporary

Woman checking blood sugar.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that 13% of patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 developed diabetes.
  • About 40% of those patients no longer had the chronic health condition during a follow-up.
  • Experts are still exploring link the link between COVID-19 and newly-onset diabetes.

Previous research shows that many COVID-19 patients developed type 2 diabetes after contracting the virus. But a new study shows that this health complication may be only temporary for some.  

That’s the major takeaway from a new study published in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications. For the study, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed data from 1,902 people who were admitted to their medical center between March and September 2020 with COVID-19.

Of those people, 594 (31.2%) had known cases of diabetes, while 77 (13%) had no known diabetes diagnosis before they were admitted. The researchers discovered that many of the newly diagnosed patients had less severe blood sugar levels than those who had been previously diagnosed, but the newly diagnosed patients had more severe forms of COVID-19.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that happens when your blood glucose, or blood sugar, is too high. Your body uses glucose as your main form of energy and insulin, a hormone that’s made by your pancreas, helps glucose move from the food you eat into your cells. When your body doesn’t make enough or any insulin, you develop diabetes.

During a follow-up through July 2021, the researchers found that about half of those who were newly diagnosed with diabetes had blood sugar levels that went back to normal or were classified as prediabetes. Only 8% of those patients still required the use of insulin to control their blood sugar a year after their hospitalization.

“Early in the pandemic, many articles suggested that diabetes was associated with worse outcomes from COVID-19,” lead study author Sara Cromer, MD, a clinical and research fellow in endocrinology at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Verywell. But, she added, many studies “showed the opposite”—that COVID-19 might lead to diabetes complications.

“In the hospital, we saw many patients admitted for COVID-19 who did not have any known diabetes prior to admission or who had prediabetes who then developed remarkably high blood sugars,” she continued. “We hoped to better understand this phenomenon and additionally add to the literature by following these patients after they were discharged from the hospital.

What This Means For You

If you were diagnosed with diabetes after having COVID-19, there is a chance it may be a temporary condition. However, it’s best to work closely with your healthcare provider to monitor the condition.

Why Might COVID-19 Lead to Diabetes?

Previous studies have shown a link between COVID-19 and a new diagnosis of diabetes. Cromer said that this association “has been a topic of great debate.”

“Multiple studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 may infect the beta cells of the pancreas, leading to decreased insulin synthesis and secretion, similar to type 1 diabetes,” Cromer explained. “However, we have also seen many patients require enormous amounts of insulin which suggest severe insulin resistance, similar to type 2 diabetes.”

Other types of severe illness and infections in the past led to the development of insulin resistance, or when the cells in your body don’t respond well to insulin, “so we know this is possible,” Cromer said.

When a diabetes diagnosis is temporary what it “likely reflects is a physiological stress response driving blood glucose levels up,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Verywell. This, he points out, is known as stress hyperglycemia, and tends to resolve itself over time.

As for people who were diagnosed with diabetes in the hospital that didn’t see an improvement in their condition, it’s likely that they were “prediabetic before they got COVID or diabetic but not diagnosed,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Verywell.

Comer agrees. “One additional finding of our study is that people with newly diagnosed diabetes at the time of hospitalization for COVID-19 were younger, more likely to be insured by Medicaid or uninsured, and less likely to be non-Hispanic White than those who were admitted with a known diagnosis of diabetes,” she said. “This may represent a population which has limited access to healthcare due to structural and socioeconomic barriers, possibly leading to a missed diagnosis of pre-existing diabetes.”

Russo said it’s possible, though, that COVID-19 could trigger the development of diabetes that lasts. “The beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin may take a hit and the organs may be damaged directly from some combination of the virus or inflammation,” he said. “This is definitely an association right now.”

Adalja points out that the study's findings are limited because it was not reported if patients used corticosteroid dexamethasone, which is a standard treatment for COVID-19 in hospitalized patients. “Corticosteroids induce hyperglycemia themselves,” he said. However, he noted, dexamethasone wasn’t used as commonly to treat hospitalized patients during the study period.

The fact that patients included in the study were just from one healthcare system and the sample size was relatively small limit the findings as well.

Ultimately, experts say, more research is needed to determine the link between COVID-19 and the development of diabetes—including whether it’s typically fleeting or not.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cromer SJ, Colling C, Schatoff D, et al. Newly diagnosed diabetes vs. pre-existing diabetes upon admission for COVID-19: associated factors, short-term outcomes, and long-term glycemic phenotypesJ Diabetes Complications. Published online February 4, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.jdiacomp.2022.108145

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. What is diabetes?

  3. Sathish T, Kapoor N, Cao Y, Tapp RJ, Zimmet P. Proportion of newly diagnosed diabetes in COVID-19 patients: A systematic review and meta-analysisDiabetes Obes Metab. 2020 Nov 27. doi:10.1111/dom.14269

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.