In a new study, researchers found that abnormally high blood sugar may worsen outcomes and mortality rates for COVID-19 patients, including those without diabetes.
They found patients with abnormally high glucose levels were more than twice as likely to die from the virus than those with normal readings (41.4% compared to 15.7%).
They also had an increased need for ventilator and intensive care admission (ICU).
The findings add to evidence that hyperglycemia—the medical term for high blood glucose—is linked to a higher chance of death independent of a diabetes diagnosis.
The scientists are now calling for compulsory hyperglycemia screening and early treatment for anyone hospitalized with COVID-19 who is non-diabetic.
The research was conducted by a team from Juan Ramon Jimenez University Hospital.
Hyperglycaemia is a common problem for diabetics but can also be triggered by illness or injury.
Studies have previously linked acute cases with complications in diabetic and non-diabetic hospital patients and observed similar associations among people with COVID-19.
In this study, the team aimed to test the link between hyperglycemia and time spent in the hospital, mechanical ventilation, ICU admission, and mortality, but independent of a diabetes diagnosis.
A total of 11,312 patients were included aged 18 or above who were admitted from March to the end of May.
The findings showed that patient blood glucose levels as measured on arrival in the hospital were strongly related to ICU admission, mechanical ventilation and/or death, regardless of diabetes status.
One in five patients died in hospital, with mortality rates highest among those with the greatest blood glucose levels.
No difference was found between death rates for those with diabetes and those who did not have the disease.
Exactly why hyperglycemia is linked with higher death rates remains unclear.
The researchers say the condition could be another ‘inflammatory bystander’ or have a more direct effect on how COVID leads to complications and death.
They urge clinicians not to overlook the condition among patients, regardless of a prior history of diabetes.
Screening for hyperglycemia in patients without diabetes and early treatment should be mandatory in the management of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
One author of the study is Dr. Javier Carrasco.
The study is published in the Annals of Medicine.
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