Coronavirus and Your Pancreas: It’s Complicated and Nasty

We tend to assume that all researchers are informed about what others have seen. That simply isn’t true of either researchers or doctors.

Some patients hospitalized for Covid-19 developed very high blood glucose levels — sufficient to cause organ damage — and had to be treated with insulin. After the disease subsided, some returned to normal levels and were taken off insulin. Some are still on insulin 6 months later, and for how much longer, we don’t know.

We know this happened, but we are uncertain how or why. One research team has documented the virus attacking and killing cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Is this recoverable or permanent?

The competing hypotheses are:

  1. The virus can invade the pancreas through the bloodstream or lymph node system, cause inflammation and permanent organ damage. This damage may cause some people with no prior or family history of diabetes to become diabetic. The inflammation may lead to cancer.
  2. The virus causes damage and diabetes in people who were disposed to diabetes. It speeds up the process of becoming diabetic but only triggers people who were going to become diabetic.

Based on cases that I know personally of patients losing gall bladders to the virus with no prior history of problems, I’m inclined toward hypothesis #1. We also know based on biopsies that the pancreas isn’t the only organ the virus can attack, and the virus can persist in the body long after tests are negative.

There will be dramatic differences in healthcare costs and quality of life depending on which theory is correct.



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