Guidance covers glycemia in dexamethasone-treated COVID-19 patients


New guidance from the U.K. National Diabetes COVID-19 Response Group addresses glucose management in patients with COVID-19 who are receiving dexamethasone therapy.

Although there are already guidelines that address inpatient management of steroid-induced hyperglycemia, the authors of the new document wrote that this new expert opinion paper was needed “given the ‘triple insult’ of dexamethasone-induced–impaired glucose metabolism, COVID-19–induced insulin resistance, and COVID-19–impaired insulin production.”

RECOVERY trial spurs response

The document, which is the latest in a series from the Association of British Clinical Diabetologists, was published online Aug. 2 in Diabetic Medicine. The group is chaired by Gerry Rayman, MD, consultant physician at the diabetes centre and diabetes research unit, East Suffolk (England) and North East NHS Foundation Trust.

The guidance was developed in response to the recent “breakthrough” Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial, which showed that dexamethasone reduced deaths in patients with COVID-19 on ventilators or receiving oxygen therapy. The advice is not intended for critical care units but can be adapted for that use.

The dose used in RECOVERY – 6 mg daily for 10 days – is 400%-500% greater than the therapeutic glucocorticoid replacement dose. High glucocorticoid doses can exacerbate hyperglycemia in people with established diabetes, unmask undiagnosed diabetes, precipitate hyperglycemia or new-onset diabetes, and can also cause hyperglycemic hyperosmolar state (HHS), the authors explained.

They recommended a target glucose of 6.0-10.0 mmol/L (108-180 mg/dL), although they say up to 12 mmol/L (216 mg/dL) is “acceptable.” They then gave advice on frequency of monitoring for people with and without known diabetes, exclusion of diabetic ketoacidosis and HHS, correction of initial hyperglycemia and maintenance of glycemic control using subcutaneous insulin, and prevention of hypoglycemia at the end of dexamethasone therapy (day 10) with insulin down-titration, discharge, and follow-up.

The detailed insulin guidance covers dose escalation for both insulin-treated and insulin-naive patients. A table suggests increasing correction doses of rapid-acting insulin based on prior total daily dose or weight.

Use of once- or twice-daily NPH insulin is recommended for patients whose glucose has risen above 12 mmol/L, in some cases with the addition of a long-acting analog. A second chart gives dose adjustments for those insulins. Additional guidance addresses patients on insulin pumps.

Guidance useful for U.S. physicians

Francisco Pasquel, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology at Emory University, Atlanta, said in an interview that he believes the guidance is “acceptable” for worldwide use, and that “it’s coherent and consistent with what we typically do.”

However, Dr. Pasquel, who founded COVID-in-Diabetes, an online repository of published guidance and shared experience – to which this new document has now been added – did take issue with one piece of advice. The guidance says that patients already taking premixed insulin formulations can continue using them while increasing the dose by 20%-40%. Given the risk of hypoglycemia associated with those formulations, Dr. Pasquel said he would switch those patients to NPH during the time that they’re on dexamethasone.

He also noted that the rapid-acting insulin dose range of 2-10 units provided in the first table, for correction of initial hyperglycemia, are more conservative than those used at his hospital, where correction doses of up to 14-16 units are sometimes necessary.

But Dr. Pasquel praised the group’s overall efforts since the pandemic began, noting that “they’re very organized and constantly updating their recommendations. They have a unified system in the [National Health Service], so it’s easier to standardize. They have a unique [electronic health record] which is far superior to what we do from a public health perspective.”

Dr. Rayman reported no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Pasquel reported receiving research funding from Dexcom, Merck, and the National Institutes of Health, and consulting for AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Merck, and Boehringer Ingelheim.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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