COVID-19 is a disease that the virus SARS-CoV-2, a type of coronavirus, causes. The virus is highly transmissible and spreads through close contact with someone with the infection. People with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of developing serious complications if they have COVID-19.

A person can have COVID-19 and experience mild symptoms such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and tiredness. These symptoms do not require treatment in a hospital.

Some people may experience no symptoms at all, although individuals with no symptoms can still pass the infection on to others.

Others may experience severe complications, such as difficulty breathing or pneumonia. Some of these complications can be fatal.

People with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing a severe illness from COVID-19.

In this article, we explore the risks that a person with type 2 diabetes faces relating to COVID-19. We also discuss the vaccine, side effects, and other risks and complications.

A person sitting at a table next to a mural of a person wearing a mask.Share on Pinterest
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Diabetes can weaken a person’s immune system, making it harder for them to fight infections. This puts people with diabetes at a higher risk of developing serious complications from certain illnesses compared to those without the condition.

Diabetes can also cause a person to experience high blood sugar levels. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the SARS-CoV-2 virus may thrive in people with elevated blood glucose.

This means that individuals with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have severe symptoms and complications if they develop COVID-19.

If a person has heart disease or other complications as well as type 2 diabetes, then they may have an even higher risk of serious illness if they have COVID-19.

One 2020 study stated that deaths in individuals with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes increased sharply during the initial COVID-19 pandemic in England.

However, a person with diabetes is at a lower risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19 if they and their care team manage their diabetes well.

One 2020 review stated that people with diabetes who maintain sufficient glycemic control may reduce their risk of infection and COVID-19 severity.

It is particularly important that a person with type 2 diabetes receives a COVID-19 vaccination. This is because they are at an increased risk of serious complications if they acquire the virus and go on to develop the disease.

There are several vaccines available, all of which are safe for people with type 2 diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list a number of medical conditions that can cause a person to get more seriously ill if they develop COVID-19. This list includes type 2 diabetes.

Therefore, the CDC encourages everyone with type 2 diabetes to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible to help protect themselves from the virus.

The United States has organized the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines on a state-by-state basis.

It is important for a person to know their state’s plan so they can protect themselves and others from the disease.

The CDC has prioritized people living with diabetes for COVID-19 vaccination. This means that most states prioritize individuals living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes equally for access to vaccines.

A person can check the rules and availability in their state to see if they are eligible for the vaccine.

There are a number of different COVID-19 vaccines available. These vaccines all have similar side effects that some people may experience.

These side effects include:

  • pain, redness, and swelling at the site of the jab
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • headaches
  • muscle pain and aches
  • chills
  • fever
  • nausea

Additionally, the side effects of these vaccines may affect a person’s ability to perform certain tasks. However, these side effects usually go away within a few days.

COVID-19 can cause several complications in a person with type 2 diabetes. These include the below.

Diabetic ketoacidosis

Viral infections, including those involving SARS-CoV-2, can cause a person’s blood sugar levels to rise. If an individual with type 2 diabetes does not have enough insulin in their bloodstream to deal with this increase, they may develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

DKA is a serious and possibly life threatening complication of diabetes. It causes the body to break down fats instead of sugars to create energy.

DKA can result in ketones building up in the blood. These ketones cause a person’s blood to become more acidic, which can lead to health issues.

Symptoms of DKA include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination

If a person believes they have DKA, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is another possible complication of COVID-19. It is an infection of the lungs that can become serious and life threatening.

People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop complications with COVID-19, including pneumonia.

Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • coughing
  • fever and chills
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • chest pain
  • loss of appetite
  • low energy and fatigue
  • confusion, particularly in older adults

Increased blood sugar levels

Infections with viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, can trigger a stress response in the body, which can increase the amount of glucose a person’s body produces.

This increase in glucose can then result in a person having high blood sugar levels. People with type 2 diabetes may then require extra insulin to combat this rise. This means if individuals have COVID-19, they may require more insulin than they would normally need.

With this in mind, a person with type 2 diabetes should closely monitor their blood sugar levels if they develop COVID-19. This way, they can be aware if their levels suddenly spike.

The CDC states that COVID-19 vaccines are very safe and that millions of people in the U.S. have received the vaccines under “the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.”

Apart from the minor side effects, there are very few risks and complications.

The CDC states there are only two serious but rare health issues that individuals have had after the vaccination — anaphylaxis and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome.

Anaphylaxis

According to the CDC, a small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction after their vaccination. However, the agency stresses this is rare. Doctors call this allergic reaction anaphylaxis.

If anaphylaxis occurs, the healthcare professionals providing the vaccination will have medicines available to treat the reaction immediately.

Once a person receives the vaccine, the medical team who administer it will require them to stay on-site for 15–30 minutes so that the team can observe them. During this period, the healthcare professionals will monitor individuals in case they experience a severe allergic reaction.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • a sensation of the throat closing
  • hoarseness
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • trouble swallowing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain and cramps
  • dizziness and fainting
  • abnormally fast heart rate
  • low blood pressure
  • redness of the skin
  • itching
  • swelling of the eyes, lips, tongue, mouth, face, or extremities
  • agitation
  • a sense that something bad is about to happen

If a person experiences anaphylaxis, they must receive treatment immediately.

Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome

Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) is a very rare complication that health experts have linked to the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine.

This causes blood clots with low platelets to develop. Symptoms of TTS occur roughly 4–30 days after the vaccination and include:

  • persistent and severe headache
  • blurred vision
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • severe and persistent abdominal pain
  • leg pain, swelling, or both

Females who are younger than 50 years of age have a higher risk of this side effect. There are other vaccines available where this risk has not increased.

However, this complication is very rare. It occurs at a rate of about 7 per 1 million vaccinated females aged 18–49 years old. This adverse complication is even rarer among females who are 50 years or older as well as males of all ages.

A person with type 2 diabetes has an increased risk of experiencing severe complications if they develop COVID-19.

They may be more at risk of having high blood sugar levels and pneumonia. They may also have a higher likelihood of death.

If an individual has type 2 diabetes, they should ensure they receive vaccination against COVID-19.

If a person has type 2 diabetes and develops COVID-19, they should contact a doctor immediately.