Study Links Unmanaged Diabetes With Greater COVID-19 Severity

Data show diabetes patients not taking medication experienced longer hospitalization and recovery from the coronavirus.

Unmanaged diabetes is a key factor in COVID-19 severity and complications, particularly among Hispanic and Latinx populations, according to a new study. Findings of the retrospective study by investigators at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) were presented at the virtual 81st Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) by Ali Mossayebi, a master’s student at UTEP.1

According to ADA, 39.5% of Americans who have died of COVID-19 have had diabetes—the second-most common underlying condition, following cardiovascular disease (60.9%).2 Further, 1 in 10 individuals with diabetes who are hospitalized die within a week.3

When left untreated, diabetes can lead to increased overall health complications. However, nearly 1 in 5 Americans with diabetes report that they had to choose between buying food or buying medications and medical supplies required to manage the condition, because of increased financial constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.4

The study sought to determine the impact of unmanaged diabetes, or a lack of medication use, on COVID-19 severity and recovery within in a predominately Hispanic population (89%)—a population that is 2.4 times more likely to die of COVID-19 and 50% more likelyto have diabetes than White Americans.5,6

This study used medical records from 369 patients with COVID-19 who were admitted to the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. These patients were categorized based on A1C levels into normoglycemic (N: A1C <5.7%), prediabetes (Pre: A1c 5.7% ≤ 6.5%), and diabetes mellitus (DM: A1C ≥ 6.5%) groups. The DM group was further categorized for their self-reported diabetes management with medication at the time of the admission.1

The study’s findings show that patients with unmanaged diabetes had significantly greater severity of COVID-19 based on quick sepsis-related organ failure assessment and length of hospitalization compared to patients who managed diabetes with medication. Moreover, patients with lower blood glucose levels had less severe complications and shorter hospital stays.1

“Our results highlight the importance of assessing, monitoring, and controlling blood glucose in hospitalized patients [with COVID-19] from the start, specifically for vulnerable populations already at risk of comorbidities.” said the study’s lead author Sudip Bajpeyi, PhD, director of UTEP’s Metabolic, Nutrition and Exercise Research (MiNER) laboratory.

According to the study’s authors, management of fasting blood glucose should be considered in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.7


  1. Unmanaged diabetes associated with greater COVID-19 severity [news release]. June 25, 2021; ADA. Accessed June 25, 2021. [email]
  2. Wortham JM, Lee JT, Althomsons S, et al. Characteristics of persons who died with COVID-19—United States, February 12-May 18, 2020. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020; 69:923-929.
  3. Yan K. 1 in 10 people with COVID and diabetes die within seven days of hospital admission. Updated June 22, 2020; The diatribe Foundation. Accessed June 25, 2021.
  4. New data alert: COVID-19 brings crisis of access for millions living with diabetes. ADA. Published December 23, 2020. Accessed June 25, 2021.
  5. The color of coronavirus: COVID-19 and deaths by race and ethnicity in the U.S. APM Research Lab. Published March 5, 2021. Accessed June 25, 2021.
  6. Fast facts: data and statistics about diabetes. American Diabetes Association. Published February 2020. Accessed June 25, 2021.
  7. Unmanaged Diabetes as a Poor Prognostic Factor in the Severity of Infection and Recovery Time of Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients. Presented at: 81st Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association; virtual. June 25-29, 2021.