Keeping Current: Diabetes and COVID-19

Some medications can stave off COVID complications in diabetic patients—and maybe in others, says Penn State endocrinologist Nazia Raja-Khan.

Medication pens

“If you have diabetes and you develop COVID, you’re at greater risk for complications—hospitalizations, respiratory failure—­­and you’re more likely to die from COVID. This is because of the inflammatory response that can occur in people with Type 2 diabetes and that’s significantly exacerbated by COVID.

“We were interested in looking at whether there were certain diabetes medications that protect people with diabetes from COVID-related complications. We looked at the GLP-1 receptor agonists, a class of drugs shown to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, weight, mortality, and cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes; they have shown evidence of reducing inflammation in these patients. In our study, we compared people with diabetes diagnosed with COVID taking the GLP-1 receptors with other diabetic patients who had COVID but were on a different medication. We examined these patients 30 days after diagnosis and found that even though they were diagnosed with COVID, the risk of hospitalization, of going into respiratory failure, and of mortality was reduced in those taking the GLP-1 drugs.

“It does seem that the GLP-1 agonists can help in reducing the excessive inflammatory response COVID causes in those with Type 2 diabetes. While this drug is only available for those patients and patients with obesity, and further clinical studies are needed, there’s some interesting preliminary data showing that the mechanisms it exhibits to reduce inflammatory markers may potentially work for other conditions, even perhaps COVID, in other segments of the population.”