From the Journals

Where does dexamethasone fit in with diabetic ketoacidosis in COVID-19?


A new article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM) addresses unique concerns and considerations regarding diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) in the setting of COVID-19.

Corresponding author Marie E. McDonnell, MD, director of the diabetes program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, discussed the recommendations with Medscape Medical News and also spoke about the news this week that the corticosteroid dexamethasone reduced death rates in severely ill patients with COVID-19.

The full JCEM article, by lead author Nadine E. Palermo, DO, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension, also at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, covers DKA diagnosis and triage, and emphasizes that usual hospital protocols for DKA management may need to be adjusted during COVID-19 to help preserve personal protective equipment and ICU beds.

“Hospitals and clinicians need to be able to quickly identify and manage DKA in COVID patients to save lives. This involves determining the options for management, including when less intensive subcutaneous insulin is indicated, and understanding how to guide patients on avoiding this serious complication,” McDonnell said in an Endocrine Society statement.

What about dexamethasone for severe COVID-19 in diabetes?

The new article briefly touches on the fact that upward adjustments to intensive intravenous insulin therapy for DKA may be necessary in patients with COVID-19 who are receiving concomitant corticosteroids or vasopressors.

But it was written prior to the June 16 announcement of the “RECOVERY” trial results with dexamethasone. The UK National Health Service immediately approved the drug’s use in the COVID-19 setting, despite the fact that there has been no published article on the findings yet.

McDonnell told Medscape Medical News that she would need to see formal results to better understand exactly which patients were studied and which ones benefited.

“The peer review will be critical. It looks as if it only benefits people who need respiratory support, but I want to understand that in much more detail,” she said. “If they all had acute respiratory distress syndrome [ARDS],” that’s different.

“There are already some data supporting steroid use in ARDS,” she noted, but added that not all of it suggests benefit.

She pointed to one of several studies now showing that diabetes, and hyperglycemia among people without a prior diabetes diagnosis, are both strong predictors of mortality in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

“There was a very clear relationship between hyperglycemia and outcomes. We really shouldn’t put people at risk until we have clear data,” she said.

If, once the data are reviewed and appropriate dexamethasone becomes an established treatment for severe COVID-19, hyperglycemia would be a concern among all patients, not just those with previously diagnosed diabetes, she noted.

“We know a good number of people with prediabetes develop hyperglycemia when put on steroids. They can push people over the edge. We’re not going to miss anybody, but treating steroid-induced hyperglycemia is really hard,” McDonnell explained.

She also recommended 2014 guidance from Diabetes UK and the Association of British Clinical Diabetologists, which addresses management of inpatient steroid-induced DKA in patients with and without pre-existing diabetes.

Another major concern, she said, is “patients trying to get dexamethasone when they start to get sick” because this is not the right population to use this agent.

“We worry about people who do not need this drug. If they have diabetes, they put themselves at risk of hyperglycemia, which then increases the risk of severe COVID-19. And then they’re also putting themselves at risk of DKA. It would just be bad medicine,” she said.


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