Conference Coverage

For COVID-19 plus diabetes, glycemic control tops treatment list


Optimizing glycemic control “is the key to overall treatment in people with diabetes and COVID-19,” said Antonio Ceriello, MD, during a June 5 webinar sponsored by Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Illustration highlighting the word diabetes ©Tashatuvango/

Dr. Ceriello, a research consultant with the Italian Ministry of Health, IRCCS Multi-Medica, Milan, highlighted a recent study that examined the association of blood glucose control and outcomes in COVID-19 patients with preexisting type 2 diabetes.

Among 7,000 cases of COVID-19, type 2 diabetes correlated with a higher death rate. However, those with well-controlled blood glucose (upper limit ≤10 mmol/L) had a survival rate of 98.9%, compared with just 11% among those with poorly controlled blood glucose (upper limit >10 mmol/L), a reduction in risk of 86% (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.14; Cell Metab. 2020 May 1. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2020.04.021).

Clinicians should also consider the possible side effects of hypoglycemic agents in the evolution of this disease. This is true of all patients, not just diabetes patients, Dr. Ceriello said. “We have data showing that ... hyperglycemia contributes directly to worsening the prognosis of COVID-19 independent of the presence of diabetes.”

One study found that the glycosylation of ACE-2 played an important role in allowing cellular entry of the virus (Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2020 Mar 31;318:E736-41). “This is something that could be related to hyperglycemia,” he added.

Another risk factor is thrombosis, a clear contributor to death rates in COVID-19. Research on thrombosis incidence in COVID-19 patients with diabetes reported higher levels of D-dimer levels in people with diabetes, especially among those who couldn’t manage their disease.

Tying all of these factors together, Dr. Ceriello discussed how ACE-2 glycosylation, in combination with other factors in SARS-CoV-2 infection, could lead to hyperglycemia, thrombosis, and subsequently multiorgan damage in diabetes patients.

Other research has associated higher HbA1c levels (mean HbA1c, 7.5%) with higher mortality risk in COVID-19 patients, said another speaker, Linong Ji, MD, director for endocrinology and metabolism at Peking University People’s Hospital, Beijing, and director of Peking University’s Diabetes Center. Proper guidance is key to ensuring early detection of hyperglycemic crisis in people with diabetes, advised Dr. Ji.

Global management of diabetes in SARS-CoV-2 patients is “quite challenging,” given that most patients don’t have their diabetes under control, said host and moderator A. Enrique Caballero, MD, an endocrinologist/investigator in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and hypertension and division of global health equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston. “They are not meeting treatment targets for cholesterol or glucose control. So we’re not managing optimal care. And now on top of this, we have COVID-19.”

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