Britain’s top diabetes experts have warned of a ‘tsunami’ of new patients with type 2 diabetes as a direct result of the Covid pandemic.
By the end of next year, doctors expect to diagnose at least 200,000 new cases of chronic disease, double the number seen in an average year.
GPs have already revealed amazing increases in the disease that occurs when a patient’s blood sugar, or sugar, is too high – often due to age, obesity, and lack of exercise – resulting in can lead to heart failure, blindness and even amputations.
Some local clinical commissioning groups have seen a 56% increase in type 2 diagnoses. If expert estimates hold true, a wave of diabetic patients could lead to a “crisis after crisis.”
Professor Andrew Boulton, president of the International Diabetes Federation and professor of medicine at the University of Manchester, told the Mail on Sunday: “The impact of Covid means we are now facing a number of type 2 crises different at the same time. My fear is that we will see a tsunami in the next two years of diabetes and its complications.
Doctors expect to diagnose at least 200,000 new cases of chronic disease, double the number seen in an average year. Pictured: finger prick test for glucose levels
Experts blame three factors for the surge. First, the backlog of undiagnosed cases due to a lack of face-to-face GP appointments.
Then there’s lockdown weight gain – the average Briton has gained 3 pounds since the start of the pandemic, according to NHS data. But most intriguing is the emerging data suggesting that Covid itself can trigger the disease in vulnerable people.
British studies show that nearly one in 20 hospitalized Covid patients have been diagnosed with diabetes within five months of contracting the virus. This is three times more than the number of Britons who develop diabetes in an average period of five months.
Dr Kevin Fernando, GP at North Berwick and Diabetes Advisor at the Royal College of GPs, says: “Emerging evidence shows a clear link between the two conditions.
“Some practices, like mine, are now taking the initiative to check for diabetes before the disease creates long-term problems.”
Lockdown victim: Cliff Barry, 52, a plumber from Wiltshire, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in July after taking a stone in the first lockdown
Dr David Strain, diabetes expert at the University of Exeter School of Medicine, said: “Before Covid, it was rare for patients to present to their GPs with advanced complications from type 2 diabetes.
“Now, because our surveillance has been so severely disrupted, it is becoming more and more common. It could take until 2023 to find all of these patients, by which time they will be at high risk for complications.
Some 4.9 million Britons have diabetes, 90% of which is type 2. People with the disease fail to produce enough insulin – the hormone that converts sugar from food into energy – causing it to increase blood sugar.
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to a series of long-term complications, including eye problems, nerve damage and potential limb loss, as well as heart disease.
While type 1 diabetes is genetic, obesity is the primary trigger for type 2, for reasons that are still poorly understood. Doctors suspect that the culprit is excess fat around the pancreas, which affects the organ’s ability to produce adequate insulin.
The condition can be well controlled with checkups, medication, diet, and exercise programs. But treatment delays increase the risk of fatal complications – more than 36,000 Britons with diabetes die prematurely each year.
Doctors say the arrival of Covid and the crackdown on regular check-ups have “destroyed” concerted efforts to detect type 2 early.
Since the symptoms of type 2 diabetes are mild initially – fatigue, constant thirst and repeated infections – most would have been refused an appointment with the GP in person, where warning signs are detected.
New figures collected by general practitioners’ offices nationwide show that fewer than 37,000 diagnoses were made between April of last year and March of this year.
Over the same period of previous years, on average more than 100,000 diagnoses were made.
“The true number for the number of people who have developed type 2 recently is probably over 100,000,” says Professor Martin Rutter, diabetes expert at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
Experts argue that means that by 2022, diagnoses are expected to reach 200,000 – or more – given an increase in obesity.
Doncaster’s GP Dr Dean Eggitt said that since March of last year, new diabetes diagnoses have increased by 56% in his area.
“People who walked to work every day suddenly started working from their kitchens, where they spent all day snacking,” he says.
Other studies have suggested that Covid could also cause type 1 diabetes. Scientists at Imperial College London found that children who tested positive for Covid were twice as likely to develop type 1 diabetes as those who did not. infected.
Small laboratory studies in the United States and Italy using samples of pancreatic tissue have found that the virus can destroy insulin-producing cells.
Dr Strain adds: “Doctors see hundreds of people who did not have diabetes before being hospitalized with the virus and suddenly have diabetes. It could take years to determine how widespread the link is, but we believe it will lead to increased rates of diabetes.
Another theory is that one of the drugs often given to people with Covid in hospital, dexamethasone, can trigger the disease in those with abnormally high blood sugar levels. A side effect of dexamethasone is an increase in blood sugar.
Then there is the problem of people who have already been diagnosed but who have been refused help.
More than 7.4 million regular check-ups for patients with type 2 diabetes did not take place in 2020, according to a recent study from the University of Manchester.
Professor Boulton said: ‘Diabetic patients were understandably afraid to go to clinics because they had been told they were vulnerable to Covid.
“Now we’re going to see a lot more complications, like permanent nerve damage, because the issues weren’t resolved in time.”
Dr Mike Smith, a general practitioner based in Hertfordshire, said the situation was already “overwhelming”.
“There are a lot of patients who have Type 2 who could easily put their condition into remission if they lost weight – but all plans to do so have failed since Covid struck.”
Cliff Barry, 52, a plumber from Wiltshire, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in July after taking a stone during the first lockdown.
“I was suddenly working from home and found myself constantly going to the closet for a snack,” says Cliff. “I started eating lots of crisps and chocolate and stopped exercising, or even just going for walks.”
In March 2021, cliff developed constant fatigue and thirst, and suddenly lost a stone and a half over the span of five weeks.
A check-up with his GP in July led to an immediate transfer to hospital. Tests confirmed that Cliff had type 2 diabetes and he began to receive daily insulin injections to control the disease.
But Cliff quickly became “frustrated” with the delays he faced when trying to get help to monitor his condition. So he turned to a private clinic, the London Diabetes Center, which offered diet plans to control his blood sugar. Today his condition is under control.
“I probably waited too long to get checked out,” he said.
“I thought people were in a worse situation than me – and I didn’t want to bother the NHS.”