From the Journals

Further warning on SGLT2 inhibitor use and DKA risk in COVID-19


Use of sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors during acute COVID-19 illness raises the risk for euglycemic diabetic ketoacidosis (euDKA), a new case series suggests.

Five patients with type 2 diabetes who were taking SGLT2 inhibitors presented in DKA despite having glucose levels below 300 mg/dL. The report was published online last month in AACE Clinical Case Reports by Rebecca J. Vitale, MD, and colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.

“A cluster of euglycemic DKA cases at our hospital during the first wave of the pandemic suggests that patients with diabetes taking SGLT2 inhibitors may be at enhanced risk for euDKA when they contract COVID-19,” senior author Naomi D.L. Fisher, MD, said in an interview.

Dr. Fisher, an endocrinologist, added: “This complication is preventable with the simple measure of holding the drug. We are hopeful that widespread patient and physician education will prevent future cases of euDKA as COVID-19 infections continue to surge.”

These cases underscore recommendations published early in the COVID-19 pandemic by an international panel, she noted.

“Patients who are acutely ill with nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea, or who are experiencing loss of appetite with reduced food and fluid intake, should be advised to hold their SGLT2 inhibitor. This medication should not be resumed until patients are feeling better and eating and drinking normally.”

On the other hand, “If patients with asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 infection are otherwise well, and are eating and drinking normally, there is no evidence that SGLT2 inhibitors need to be stopped. These patients should monitor [themselves] closely for worsening symptoms, especially resulting in poor hydration and nutrition, which would be reason to discontinue their medication.”

Pay special attention to the elderly, those with complications

However, special consideration should be given to elderly patients and those with medical conditions known to increase the likelihood of severe infection, like heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Dr. Fisher added.

The SGLT2 inhibitor class of drugs causes significant urinary glucose excretion, and they are also diuretics. A decrease in available glucose and volume depletion are probably both important contributors to euDKA, she explained.

With COVID-19 infection the euDKA risk is compounded by several mechanisms. Most cases of euDKA are associated with an underlying state of starvation that can be triggered by vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and poor oral intake.

In addition – although not yet known for certain – SARS-CoV-2 may also be toxic to pancreatic beta cells and thus reduce insulin secretion. The maladaptive inflammatory response seen with COVID-19 may also contribute, she said.

The patients in the current case series were three men and two women seen between March and May 2020. They ranged in age from 52 to 79 years.

None had a prior history of DKA or any known diabetes complications. In all of them, antihyperglycemic medications, including SGLT2 inhibitors, were stopped on hospital admission. The patients were initially treated with intravenous insulin, and then subcutaneous insulin after the DKA diagnosis.

Three of the patients were discharged to rehabilitation facilities on hospital days 28-47 and one (age 53 years) was discharged home on day 11. The other patient also had hypertension and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.

A version of this article first appeared on

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