As the global viral outbreak continues, you may be wondering what special considerations there are for people with diabetes to keep in mind. In particular, what should you do if you begin to experience symptoms consistent with the infection? This article reviews the most common COVID-19 symptoms, discusses potential issues specific to people with diabetes, and provides a guideline of how to respond if you become sick.
Symptoms of COVID-19
Be on the lookout for the following most common symptoms of COVID-19:
- Coughing (especially dry)
- Shortness of breath
Other symptoms may include fatigue, body aches, and sore throat, among others.
Special Considerations for People with Diabetes
You may have heard that people with certain medical conditions, including those with diabetes, are considered to be in the high-risk group for developing more serious symptoms of the disease, and have been reported to have a significantly higher mortality rate than those without underlying conditions. While these statistics are both relevant and can be scary, it is also important to keep in mind that your individual risk will vary widely depending on your specific health status, regardless of your diabetes diagnosis. Your age, other related and unrelated health conditions, and blood glucose management profile, all play a role in determining your overall risk. So, while as a whole population, people with diabetes are at higher risk for complications, your individual risk could be much lower than that.
For instance, as per the JDRF, those who have type 1 diabetes are “not necessarily at higher risk of developing serious complications from the disease. Those at greatest risk are those who have another, or second chronic disease (such as a compromised immune system, heart disease or renal failure).”
Talk to your healthcare provider to better understand your individual risk level and recommendations.
Have a Plan of Action If Symptoms Arise
Being adequately prepared ahead of time can help you feel calmer and more empowered if you do get sick. Consider taking the following steps today, if you haven’t already:
- Take preventative measures. Stay home. Practice social distancing (note: if you already have symptoms, self-isolate!)
- Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face. Disinfect “high-touch” surfaces regularly.
- Make sure that your medication refills are up-to-date so that you have the supply you need if you will stay in your home for a long period of time (e.g., at least several weeks). Make sure that you consider supplies used for diabetes management as well as any other medications that you use.
- Check that you have medications on hand that you would typically use to treat a viral infection, such as a fever-reducing agent, like acetaminophen (Tylenol). Consult with your healthcare provider for advice about their specific recommendations.
- Have enough food and water in your home in case you stay home for a prolonged period of time (e.g., several weeks).
- Review the “Sick Day Rules” for people with diabetes. COVID-19 causes mild symptoms in most of the people who are infected. This means most likely, you will be treating your symptoms at home. However, any illness can make blood glucose levels more challenging to manage. It is important to be aware of how illness can affect your management plan and make adjustments as needed, with the help of your healthcare provider, to keep yourself safe during the illness. You can find the standard “Sick Day Rules” as described by the Joslin Diabetes Center here, but discuss your specific recommendations with your healthcare provider.
So, what should you actually do (and not do) if you develop symptoms of COVID-19?
- Don’t panic.
- Self-isolate. Don’t go to urgent care or the emergency room, unless instructed to do so or you experience serious symptoms (see below). Stay home.
- Call your doctor and follow their advice closely.
- Keep a close eye on blood sugar levels. Work with your healthcare provider to make adjustments to medications, if needed, to help stay in the target glycemic range as much as possible. Keeping blood glucose levels in check as much as possible can go a long way to helping you avoid complications during any illness.
- Manage your specific symptoms (e.g., fever). Ask your healthcare provider for specific at-home treatment advice.
- Stay hydrated. This can help you keep your blood sugar levels in the target range and avoid complications.
- Be on the lookout for serious symptoms, including those of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), as well as the following “COVID-19 emergency warning signs”:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Confusion or difficulty waking
- Blue tint to the skin (on the lips or face, in particular)
If you experience these any of these symptoms, promptly seek medical care. Wear a mask if out in public.
- Continue to wash your hands and clean surfaces regularly.
- Continue to avoid contact with others (humans and pets).
- Do not discontinue isolation until you get the “all clear” from your healthcare provider.
For even more detailed information on what to do if you are ill, read these guidelines from the CDC:
Also, learn even more about COVID-19 illness with diabetes from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) here.