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Extra risk from coronavirus for those with diabetes

12:00am | & Health

People living with diabetes face a significantly higher risk of dying with coronavirus, according to new NHS research.

The world-leading research shows that people living with type 1 diabetes are at three-and-a-half times the risk, while people living with type 2 are at double the risk of dying in hospital with the virus, compared to people without diabetes. However, by far the strongest risk factor for dying with the virus is age, and people with type 1 diabetes are on average younger than those with type 2.

Overall, 7,466 of those who died in hospitals in England after testing positive for coronavirus had type 2 diabetes and 365 who died had type 1. The research suggests that the threat for those under 40 with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is very low, with no recorded deaths in those under 20.

The study also shows that in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, even when all other known factors are taken into account, higher blood glucose levels and obesity are linked to higher risk.

Now the NHS in England is urging people with diabetes to access a range of help available to them, including a new dedicated helpline and online tools to help manage the condition during the outbreak. Video consultations and online appointments, as well as routine discussions with GPs, are among measures the NHS has adopted so that diabetes care can continue throughout the pandemic.

A dedicated helpline has also been introduced, in partnership with Diabetes UK, Novo Nordisk and Insulet, to advise those who need help with insulin. It is part of a package of measures already in place for people with diabetes or at risk of developing it, including the world-leading Diabetes Prevention Programme. It has already successfully helped almost 90,000 people who were at risk of type 2 diabetes to lose a combined weight of more almost 408,000lbs.

Patients will also receive additional support from online education services for type 1 and type 2 diabetes to help them to manage their condition better. Findings from the new research also show that:

  • The overall death rate for people with diabetes doubled during the early stage of the pandemic.
  • In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, men, people of black or Asian ethnicity, and people living in more deprived communities, were at higher risk.
  • In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, those with pre-existing kidney disease, heart failure and previous stroke, were also at higher risk.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and lead author of the study said: “This research shows the extent of the risk of coronavirus for people with diabetes and the different risks for those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Importantly, it also shows that higher blood glucose levels and obesity further increase the risk in both types of diabetes.

“This can be worrying news, but we would like to reassure people that the NHS is here for anyone with concerns about diabetes – and has put extra measures in place to help people and keep them safe, including online sites to support people to care for themselves, digital consultations, and a dedicated new helpline for advice and support for people treated with insulin.”

NHS advice for people living with diabetes during the coronavirus crisis includes:

  • If you’re concerned about your diabetes during the pandemic, the NHS is still here to help. Contact your GP Practice or Diabetes team.
  • If you have diabetes and have been contacted by your specialist eye or foot care team, please go to your appointments to receive treatment to avoid these problems getting worse. Clinics are taking extra protective measures to keep people safe.
  • The 4Ts – toilet, thirsty, tired and thinner – are signs of a life-threatening diabetic emergency, diabetic ketoacidosis or ‘DKA’. If you recognise these signs, seek urgent medical advice from your GP Practice (or 111 out of hours); if you already have diabetes, contact your Diabetes team; or if you feel very unwell, call 999.
  • If you have diabetes and see a cut or blister on your foot, it may be a sign of a foot ulcer. Call your GP Practice to get it checked as soon as possible. If you do have an ulcer or other serious foot problem, you will be referred to see a specialist urgently.
  • If you’re experiencing a serious or life-threatening emergency – call 999.

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