COVID-19: Diabetes raises COVID-19 risks, doctors say

  • By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter

People with diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity who contract COVID-19 are at higher risk of developing serious complications, physicians said on Friday, advising people to maintain a balanced diet and exercise regularly.

Obesity significantly increases the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, which raise the risk for heart disease — the second most common cause of death in Taiwan, Ministry of Health and Welfare data showed.

A Central Epidemic Command Center report on COVID-19 deaths from last month showed that more than 95 percent of the first 100 people who died of the virus since May 11 had underlying health conditions, with the most common being high blood pressure, followed by diabetes, both high blood pressure and diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Taiwan Society of Cardiovascular Interventions chairperson Hsieh I-chang (謝宜璋) said that chronic diseases, as well as obesity, increase the risk of people who are infected with COVID-19 developing serious complications or dying.

People with cardiovascular disease, diabetes or obesity should try to managing their health by reducing all risk factors for their conditions rather than just focusing on one, as they are closely related, he said.

Formosan Diabetes Care Foundation director Tsai Shih-tse (蔡世澤) said that diabetics are at higher risk of developing various complications, including stroke, heart attack, foot issues, kidney damage and other problems.

A US study last year showed that 38.9 percent of people with severe symptoms of COVID-19 who died also had diabetes, and data in Taiwan on patients with serious COVID-19 symptoms in May showed that up to 37 percent had diabetes, he said.

Diabetics who have poor blood sugar control are at even higher risk of developing complications or dying, Tsai said, adding that some often do not take their medication and have avoided exercise during the pandemic, which leads to even worse management of their blood sugar levels.

People with diabetes should not only manage their blood sugar levels through a diet low in sugar, fat and sodium, but also exercise regularly to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity, he said.

They should also consult their doctor and take medicine regularly, including incretin-based treatments to reduce appetite, help control blood glucose and reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors, he said.

People seeking to control their blood pressure should eat food high in fiber and low in salt, sugar and calories; perform moderately intense aerobic exercises regularly, such as taichi or jogging; and avoid smoking cigarettes, Hsieh added.

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