A U.S. hospital has seen a surge in the number of kids with a life-threatening complication of type 2 diabetes.
The trend at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic may be affecting kids’ health in unexpected ways, according to a new study led by Dr. Lily Chao, interim medical diabetes director.
Her team noticed in March 2020 that an increasing number of patients were arriving at the hospital in with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
“DKA happens when insulin levels in the blood drop too low for too long,” Chao said in a hospital news release. “Insulin helps the body utilize glucose. So when there’s not enough insulin, the body starts breaking down fat as a source of energy.”
This can lead to dangerously high levels of acids in the blood. Without treatment, cerebral edema, coma or even death can result.
“Kids are coming in with dehydration and DKA. But DKA is preventable and reversible if we treat it early and appropriately,” Chao said.
She noted that the hospital used to see a few DKA cases in type 2 diabetes a year.
“All of a sudden we were seeing a spike, so we began keeping track,” Chao said. “Now we have the numbers to confirm that there are more children with type 2 diabetes who present with this very serious complication.”
Researchers suggested that a possible reason is that fewer parents are taking their kids for routine well-child exams due to fears about exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID.
Other factors may include kids getting less physical activity during lockdowns or having less access to fresh, healthy foods.
It’s also possible there may be biological relationship between exposure to the virus and diabetes, researchers said.
“There is definitely a link between COVID-19 and diabetes,” said senior author Senta Georgia, an investigator in the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“We don’t know whether SARS-CoV-2 infects insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas,” Georgia said in the release. “There are some reports of a link between COVID-19 and diabetes in adults, but no pediatric studies have been published to date.”
The findings for the new study were published April 26 in the journal Diabetes Care.
“It’s critical for pediatricians to recognize that when a child presents with symptoms of diabetes, the child needs to be evaluated right away,” Chao said. “The sooner we see these kids, the better chance we have to prevent DKA.”
The American Diabetes Association has more on diabetic ketoacidosis.
SOURCE: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, news release, April 26, 2021