A warning has been issued to anyone who has had Covid over life-threatening complications that can strike months after infection.
A major UK study by researchers at King’s College London found that people who catch the virus have a greater risk of being diagnosed with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases - and the risk was higher in the three months post-infection.
The study highlights that Covid is a multi-system condition that can impact the whole body, not just the respiratory system.
What did researchers find?
Researchers analysed medical records from more than 428,000 Covid patients.
They found that 81% of these patients had a higher chance of being diagnosed with diabetes in the first four weeks after contracting the virus, and the risk remained elevated by 27% for up to 12 weeks after infection.
Covid was also associated with a six-fold increase in cardiovascular diagnoses overall, compared to uninfected people of the same age and sex.
Researchers say this was mainly due to the development of blood clots in the lungs and irregular heartbeat.
The risk of new heart disease diagnoses began to decline five weeks after infection and returned to baseline levels or lower within 12 weeks to one year.
Based on these findings, researchers recommend that doctors advise their patients who are recovering from Covid to reduce their risk of diabetes by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
Emma Rezel-Potts, lead author of the paper, said: “Use of a large, national database of electronic health records from primary care has enabled us to characterise the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus during the acute and longer-term phases following Covid-19 infection.
“Whilst it is in the first four weeks that Covid-19 patients are most at risk of these outcomes, the risk of diabetes mellitus remains increased for at least 12 weeks.
“Clinical and public health interventions focusing on reducing diabetes risk among those recovering from Covid-19 over the longer-term may be very beneficial.”
Ajay Shah, co-author, added that “particular vigilance” should be paid to patients in the first three months after infection.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Many people have diabetes without realising as the symptoms do not necessarily make you feel unwell, making it difficult to spot. However, there are a few telltale signs to look for that could help with diagnosis.
The main symptoms, according to the NHS, include:
- peeing more than usual, particularly at night
- feeling thirsty all the time
- feeling very tired
- losing weight without trying to
- itching around your penis or vagina, or repeatedly getting thrush
- cuts or wounds taking longer to heal
- blurred vision
A healthy diet and around 2.5 hours of physical activity per week can help to manage blood sugar levels. The NHS recommends eating a wide range of foods, including fruit, vegetables and starchy foods like pasta, and keeping sugar, fat and salt to a minimum.
There is evidence that eating a low-calorie diet (800 to 1,200 calories a day) on a short-term basis (around 12 weeks) can help with symptoms of type 2 diabetes, and some people have even found that their symptoms go into remission.
However, a low-calorie diet is not safe or suitable for everyone with type 2, such as those who need to take insulin, so it is important to seek medical advice before going on this type of diet.