Local endocrinologist explains growing evidence of troubling link between COVID-19 and diabetes

Dr. Carolina Solis-Herrera is an endocrinologist with University Health’s Texas Diabetes Institute and division chief of endocrinology at UT Health San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – Multiple studies are showing a troubling connection between COVID-19 and new-onset diabetes, according to one of San Antonio’s top endocrinologists.

Dr. Carolina Solis-Herrera, an endocrinologist with University Health’s Texas Diabetes Institute and division chief of endocrinology at UT Health San Antonio, explained the link in a new Q&A provided by University Health.

You can watch the full video in the player above.

Solis-Herrera said studies have shown that 14% of patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 developed Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

One of the theories centers around how the virus attaches to the body’s ACE2 receptors.

ACE2 stands for angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 and it’s a protein on the surface of many cell types including the lungs, intestines, pancreas and heart.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus attaches to the ACE2 receptors and then gains entry into the cells. The virus also prevents ACE2 from doing its job of helping to regulate processes like blood pressure, wound healing and inflammation. Solis-Herrera says it’s why COVID-19 leads to complications like pneumonia in the lungs and myocarditis in the heart.

Solis-Herrera said autopsies of COVID-19 patients have shown physical evidence of direct damage to the pancreas, specifically the beta cell that produces insulin.

“So we believe that this may be a direct association with that insulin deficiency and the development of diabetes in these patients,” Solis-Herrera said.

Some people may be more vulnerable to developing diabetes after having COVID-19 and they include people who are already at risk of developing diabetes — patients with a family history of diabetes, who are obese or live a sedentary lifestyle, and those with prediabetes, which is abnormal glucose but not yet in the diabetes range.

Solis-Herrera said the COVID-19 pandemic has also been difficult for people who already had diabetes because until vaccinations were easily available, many people delayed their medical care.

“And so we saw a spike in complications and diabetes and other chronic diseases like heart failure, and patients would come to the hospital a lot sicker. Fortunately now, with vaccinations and telemedicine, people now are procuring medical care so much more than last year,” Solis-Herrera said.

James Madro developed Type 2 diabetes about four months after he contracted COVID-19.

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Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.