Can Blood Sugar Control Protect Against COVID’s Worst Effects?

New protocol may protect health care workers, improve outcomes for those infected with COVID-19, researchers say
August 24, 2020 Updated: August 24, 2020

A new protocol for monitoring glucose may help combat serious complications from COVID-19 in patients with diabetes or high blood sugar, researchers say.

After preliminary observations of 200 COVID-19 patients with severe hyperglycemia, a new paper in the American Diabetes Association journal Diabetes sheds light on why high blood sugar may trigger worse outcomes in people infected with the virus.

The researchers have also developed a blood sugar management tool that may potentially reduce the risk of secondary infections, kidney issues, and intensive care stays in people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or obesity, who get COVID-19.

“Based on preliminary observations of our patients, those with one of these preexisting conditions are at high risk for making the virus-induced respiratory dysfunction much worse, potentially resulting in death,” said first author Roma Gianchandani, a professor of internal medicine in the Michigan Medicine Division of metabolism, endocrinology, and diabetes.

COVID-19 and Diabetes

Senior author Rodica Pop-Busui, a diabetes specialist, professor of internal medicine, and vice-chair of clinical research in the internal medicine department, suspects it’s the low-grade, inflammatory nature of diabetes that promotes the virus’ inflammatory surge, resulting in insulin resistance and severe hyperglycemia.

“When the body becomes this inflamed, it triggers an abnormal immune response that instead of just attacking the virus, affects the rest of the body’s healthy cells and tissue, leading to rapid deterioration in health,” she said.

Specifically, these patients are at an increased risk for mechanical ventilation, kidney replacement therapy due to kidney failure, and requiring medications known as vasopressors to stop dangerously low blood pressure, or steroids to combat acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Gianchandani said these complications make managing blood sugar more difficult.

“Our team is convinced this management is essential to prevent complications that lead to prolonged inpatient stays, or morbidity,” she said. “A recent study has already shown there’s a correlation between well-controlled blood sugar and lower levels of inflammatory markers.”

The research team developed a tool to identify and manage high blood sugar in COVID-19 patients, placing them into certain risk categories that looked at hyperglycemia severity, presence of obesity, level of insulin resistance, the extent of kidney dysfunction, and evidence of rapid changes in inflammatory markers.

Protocol for Blood Sugar Monitoring

The newly created hyperglycemia management teams set out to find a way to monitor patients’ diabetes without having to use more personal protective equipment to visit the rooms all the time. It was also important to reduce the health care provider’s exposure to the virus as much as possible.

Although typically accurate, a continuous glucose monitor wouldn’t be as helpful because a patient’s low blood pressure and the use of blood pressure medications could falsely elevate blood sugar levels.

The new protocol called for insulin delivery every six hours, and at the same time, a nurse would check in on the patient. Some patients who were on ventilators or receiving high doses of vitamin C would have their arterial or venous blood sugar levels checked, replacing the need for the team’s blood sugar check.

For patients with the highest blood sugar levels and severe hyperglycemia, insulin infusions were an option for them until their levels fell to within a normal range.

The result of these efforts helped successfully lower blood sugar levels without increasing nurse contact or the overall burden on primary care teams and PPE usage.

“Improving blood sugar control was important in reducing the amount of secondary infections and kidney issues this cohort of patients are susceptible to,” Gianchandani said. “This might help shorten ICU stays and lessen the amount of patients that need a ventilator.”

It’s important to note that this protocol wasn’t developed as a result of a clinical trial but is based solely on preliminary observations in the patients the team followed. A larger, randomized, and controlled study is necessary to determine how this protocol impacts mortality, time to recovery, the length of ICU stays, and the rate of severe complications.

“Our team is looking forward to the next steps in confirming our hypothesis,” Gianchandani said. “In the meantime, I think these observations validate the importance of blood sugar management in COVID-19 patients and can serve as a guide or inspiration for other institutions.”

This article was originally published by the University of Michigan. Republished via under Creative Commons License 4.0.