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boy checking his blood glucose

There’s still more to learn about COVID-19 and diabetes

boy checking his blood glucose

Researchers have learned a lot about COVID-19 over the past year and are continuing to learn and study more about this infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There have been many questions about whether COVID-19 affects people with diabetes differently than those without and why this might occur.

Diabetes experts, like Brynn Marks, M.D., M.S.H.P.Ed., endocrinologist at Children’s National Hospital, have been studying the relationship between COVID-19 and diabetes, especially in the pediatric population. Dr. Marks tells us more about what we know so far and further research that needs to be done when it comes to COVID-19 and diabetes.

1.      What do we know about COVID-19 and its effect on people with known diabetes?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently lists type 2 diabetes (T2D) as a high risk condition for severe illness related to COVID-19 infection, while stating that adults with type 1 diabetes (T1D) might be at increased risk. A recent study from Vanderbilt University found that people with T1D and T2D were at approximately equal risk for complications of COVID-19 infection. As compared to adults without diabetes, adults with T1D and T2D were 3-4 times more likely to be hospitalized and to have greater illness severity. Given these comparable risks, both the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation are lobbying for adults with T1D to be given the same level or priority for COVID-19 vaccines as adults with T2D.

However, as pediatricians, we all know to be wary of extrapolating adult data to pediatrics. Children are less likely to be infected with COVID-19 and if they are, the clinical course is typically mild. To date, there have not been any studies of the impact of COVID-19 on youth with known T2D. Our clinical experience at Children’s National Hospital and reports from international multicenter studies indicate that youth with T1D are not at increased risk for hospitalization from COVID-19 infection. However, paralleling ongoing disparities in T1D care, African Americans with known T1D and COVID-19 infection were more likely to be develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) than their White counterparts.

With the increased use of diabetes technologies, including continuous glucose monitors, insulin pumps and automated insulin delivery systems, diabetes care lends itself well to telemedicine. Studies from Italy during the period of lockdown showed better glycemic control among youth with T1D. Further studies are needed to better understand the implications of telehealth on diabetes care, particularly among those in rural areas with limited access to care.

Brynn Marks

Diabetes experts, like Brynn Marks, M.D., M.S.H.P.Ed., endocrinologist at Children’s National Hospital, have been studying the relationship between COVID-19 and diabetes, especially in the pediatric population.

2.      What do we know about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with newly diagnosed diabetes?

Nationwide studies from Italy and Germany over the first few months of the pandemic found no increase in the incidence of pediatric T1D during the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to the year before; in fact, the Italian study found that fewer children were diagnosed with T1D during the pandemic. However, many centers are seeing higher rates of DKA and more severe DKA at diagnosis during the pandemic, possibly due to decreased primary care visits and/or fears of contracting COVID-19 while seeking care.

To date, no studies have been published exploring the incidence of T2D in youth. A group from Children’s National, including myself, Myrto Flokas, M.D., Abby Meyers, M.D., and Elizabeth Estrada, M.D., from the Division of Endocrinology and Randi Streisand, Ph.D., C.D.C.E.S. and Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., C.D.C.E.S., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Health, are gathering data to compare the incidence of T1D and T2D during the pandemic as compared to the year before.

3.      Can COVID-19 cause diabetes to develop?

This has been area of great interest, but the jury is still out. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 infection, binds the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor which is located in many tissues throughout the body, including the pancreas. SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to infect pancreatic tissue leading to impaired glucose stimulated insulin secretion. Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus could plausibly cause diabetes, assessment has been complicated by many confounders that could be contributing to hyperglycemia in addition to or rather than the virus itself. Stress-induced hyperglycemia from acute illness, the use of high dose steroids to treat COVID-19 infection, and the disproportionate rates of infection among those already at high risk for T2D, as well as weight gain due to changes in day-to-day life as a result of social distancing precautions are all likely contributing factors.

Maureen Monaghan

Using text messages and telemedicine to improve diabetes self-management

Maureen Monaghan

Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., C.D.E., clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator in the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National Health System, awarded nearly $1.6 million grant from American Diabetes Association.

Adolescents and young adults ages 17-22 with Type 1 diabetes are at high risk for negative health outcomes. If fact, some studies show that less than 20 percent of patients in this population meet targets for glycemic control, and visits to the Emergency Department for acute complications like diabetic ketoacidosis peak around the same age.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) awarded Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., C.D.E., clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator in the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National Health System, nearly $1.6 million to evaluate an innovative behavioral intervention to improve patient-provider communication, teach and help patients maintain self-care and self-advocacy skills and ultimately prepare young adults for transition into adult diabetes care, limiting the negative adverse outcomes that are commonly seen in adulthood.

Dr. Monaghan is the first psychologist funded through the ADA’s Pathway to Stop Diabetes program, which awards six annual research grants designed to spur breakthroughs in fundamental diabetes science, technology, diabetes care and potential cures. Dr. Monaghan received the Accelerator Award, given to diabetes researchers early in their careers, which will assist her in leading a behavioral science project titled, “Improving Health Communication During the Transition from Pediatric to Adult Diabetes Care.”

“Behavior is such a key component in diabetes care, and it’s wonderful that the American Diabetes Association is invested in promoting healthy behaviors,” says Dr. Monaghan. “I’m excited to address psychosocial complications of diabetes and take a closer look at how supporting positive health behavior during adolescence and young adulthood can lead to a reduction in medical complications down the road.”

During the five year study, Dr. Monaghan will recruit patients ages 17-22 and follow their care at Children’s National through their first visit with an adult endocrinologist. Her team will assess participants’ ability to communicate with providers, including their willingness to disclose diabetes-related concerns, share potentially risky behaviors like drinking alcohol and take proactive steps to monitor and regularly review glucose data.

“The period of transition from pediatric to adult diabetes care represents a particularly risky time. Patients are going through major life changes, such as starting new jobs, attending college, moving out of their parents’ homes and ultimately managing care more independently,” says Dr. Monaghan. “Behavioral intervention can be effective at any age, but we are hopeful that we can substantially help youth during this time of transition when they are losing many of their safety nets.”

Study leaders will help participants download glucose device management tools onto their smartphones and explain how to upload information from patients’ diabetes devices into the system. Participants will then learn how to review the data and quickly spot issues for intervention or follow-up with their health care provider.

Patients also will participate in behavioral telemedicine visits from the convenience of their own homes, and receive text messages giving them reminders about self-care and educational information, such as “Going out with your friends tonight? Make sure you check your glucose level before you drive.”

At the study’s conclusion, Dr. Monaghan anticipates seeing improvements in psychosocial indicators, mood and transition readiness, as well as improved diabetes self-management and engagement in adult medicine.

Children’s National Diabetes Program Honored at SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Maureen Monaghan and Fran Cogen at SAMHSA

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) spotlighted the Children’s National diabetes program as an exemplar of integrated care for children and adolescents. Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., CDE, (left) and Fran Cogen, M.D., CDE, interim co-chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes and director of the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program, were in attendance.

On May 4, Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., CDE, clinical and pediatric psychologist and certified diabetes educator in the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National, participated in a panel emphasizing the importance of integrating physical and mental health in the care of young patients as part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. SAMHSA also spotlighted the Children’s National diabetes program as an exemplar of integrated care for children and adolescents.

“Many of our families start out knowing nothing about the disease, and they now have a child whose care requires day-to-day management for the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Monaghan. “It’s not a disease you ever get a break from – which can take both a physical and emotional toll on children and their families.”

Maureen Monaghan at SAMHSA National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Dr. Monaghan participated in a panel emphasizing the importance of integrating physical and mental health in the care of young patients with diabetes.

To combat this issue and reduce barriers and stigma related to seeking mental health care, the program brings a dedicated, multidisciplinary care team together in one convenient location.

From the initial diagnosis, patients have access to care from a comprehensive team, including six physicians, three nurse practitioners, eight nurse educators, three psychologists, a physical therapist, dietitian and social worker. Each expert counsels the patient and the family, helping them navigate all aspects of living with the disease – from overcoming stress and anxiety to offering healthy meal-planning guides and exercise routines.

“We aren’t just concerned about how they are doing medically or what emotions they are experiencing,” says Dr. Monaghan. “Instead, our team’s integration allows us to focus on the whole child and his or her total quality of life, which is so important for patients and families with chronic disease.”

To learn more, watch this short video, featuring employees and patients of the Children’s National Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program, which was presented during the events surrounding the SAMHSA National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.