Skip to main content

IBX Insights

Diabetes in the Time of COVID-19

woman taking blood sugar level at lunchtime

If you have diabetes, taking care of your health can be challenging during normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic can make it so much harder.

I’d like to examine the pandemic’s impact on people living with diabetes, offer advice on how to stay safe and healthy, and what to do if you get the virus.

Increased Risk of Complications

If you have diabetes, there is clear evidence that if you get COVID-19, you’re more likely to experience serious complications, including an increased risk of diabetic ketoacidosis.

And your risk of serious complications is even higher if you also have other health conditions like heart disease or obesity.

People with diabetes already face a higher risk of having heart disease. So minimizing that risk will not only keep you healthier in general, but also help protect you from dangerous COVID-19 complications. Talk to your doctor about whether you should be taking medication to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Currently there’s no clear evidence that having diabetes increases your risk of contracting COVID-19. But because of the increased risk of complications that occur in people with diabetes who have COVID-19, it is important to follow all CDC guidelines to minimize your risk of getting the disease.

What to Do About It: Stay Safe

Avoid unnecessary outings, wear a face mask outside, and maintain social distance. That’s what we should all be doing — but if you have diabetes, it’s even more critical.

Don’t Avoid Medical Care

COVID-19 anxiety and depression are leading many people to delay medical care. And regular medical care is vital if you are diabetic. Make sure you keep all your doctor’s appointments, and get all tests and screenings that are needed to manage your diabetes.

Keep Taking Care of Your Diabetes

The CDC recommends that you keep taking your medications and insulin as usual, test your blood sugar regularly, and call your doctor if you have concerns about your diabetes or get sick. This post has some additional things I highly recommend doing.

Also, Get Medical Help When You Need It

Don’t avoid getting necessary medical attention because of the pandemic. However, use telemedicine if you can handle your health issues that way.

Limit in-person pharmacy visits by using drive-through windows, curbside pickup, mail order, or other delivery services when they’re available. These pharmacies offer free delivery in our area.

If You Do Become Ill With COVID-19…

Speak with your doctor or health care provider and follow their advice. Stay home to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to others. Check your blood sugar more than usual. Drink lots of fluids. And remember that some over-the-counter medicines can affect your blood sugar levels. For instance, liquid cough medicines can raise them. And a higher-than-normal dose of aspirin or ibuprofen can lower blood sugars.

Get medical help immediately if you’re having trouble breathing, or having diabetic ketoacidosis symptoms like fatigue, weakness, body aches, vomiting, or belly pain.

Heightened Anxiety and Depression

While avoiding other people is an important way to reduce your exposure risk, it can also make you feel more isolated — which can exacerbate anxiety and depression. People with diabetes already face a higher-than-average risk of experiencing mental health disorders, and the pandemic can make that worse.

What to Do About It: Try to Reduce Your Stress

Exercise. Stay in touch with friends and family over the phone, FaceTime, or Zoom. Do things that bring you joy. And consider meditating. It’s really not hard, and really helps.

Reduced Physical Activity

Since the pandemic began, our collective level of physical activity has taken a nosedive. People are exercising less and sitting more. That can harm your physical health very quickly. And since exercise combats anxiety and depression, being less active can also impact your mental health.

What to Do About It: Exercise

Yes, it’s harder to stay active when you can’t safely go to the gym. But the CDC still recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (like brisk walking) each week. And they offer ideas for staying active close to home during the pandemic.

Poorer Diets, Greater Weight Gain

Many people are eating more, or indulging more in comfort foods, to cope with the stress of the pandemic. Combined with reduced exercise, this can lead to weight gain — which will make your diabetes more difficult to control. And, obesity also increases your risk of complications from COVID-19.

What to Do About It: Eat Mindfully

It can be tempting to reach for comfort foods when you’re anxious and depressed. Buying healthier choices and not having high salt and/or high fat snacks in your home is the easiest way to eat healthy. But if you’ve eaten too much or gained weight, you can get stressed and disheartened about that too! Psychology Today has some good suggestions for dealing with unhealthy eating patterns.

At the same time, try not to beat yourself up about daily weight fluctuations or bad food decisions. It doesn’t accomplish anything, and only makes coping with this pandemic even harder.

We’re Committed to Supporting You Every Way We Can

At Independence Blue Cross, we know this pandemic is having a devastating impact on everyone. And we’re trying to help.

  • If you’re a member, we cover telemedicine services at no cost at your PCP, as well as other ways, through December 31, 20201, as I discuss here.
  • And if you’re a Medicare Advantage HMO or PPO member with a diabetes diagnosis, and haven’t gotten your A1C level tested yet this year, we’re mailing you a free kit (as recommended by your doctor or health care provider) so you can do the test at home and send it to the lab.
  • Finally, all our plans have zero dollar in-network COVID-19 testing and treatment. So, you’re covered when you need it most.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed during this pandemic. Simple recommendations and resources from Independence Blue Cross can provide peace of mind, knowing you’re doing everything you can to stay healthy and safe.

1 Please note: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act mandates that member cost sharing (deductible, co-pays and coinsurance) is waived both in and out-of-network for the testing and diagnosis of COVID-19 throughout the public health emergency. If the public health emergency ends prior to December 31, 2020, the waiver of cost sharing for out-of-network testing and diagnosis will end as of the date the public emergency ends. If the public emergency does not end as of December 31, 2020, the waiver of member cost sharing for both in and out of network will continue through the public emergency. For High Deductible Health Plans, in-network cost sharing waivers detailed above will remain in effect through December 31, 2020 unless prohibited by law.
Dr. Ronald J. Brooks MD, FACP

I joined Independence Blue Cross in 2003 after practicing Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and population health. In my current role, I function as the medical liaison to physicians, hospital systems, and provide clinical guidance to programs at Independence. What excites me about my job is the opportunity to design and implement programs that benefit large populations.