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Beat the Heat With Type 2 Diabetes

We're living through another scorching summer. After June temperatures set records worldwide, NASA warned that July 2023 is expected to be the warmest month on record!1

This is very troubling because people with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of experiencing heat-related health problems.2

As the temps stay hotter for more and more days, it's important that we actively manage our heat exposure. Extreme heat can take diabetes management off track without proper monitoring.

Why are people with type 2 diabetes sensitive to heat?

There are several reasons why type 2 diabetes makes people more susceptible to heat-related health issues. Dehydration, metabolism, and damaged blood vessels or nerves factor into heat-related concerns.

Dehydration

Dehydration can raise glucose levels, resulting in hyperglycemia. If left unaddressed, dehydration can create a cycle where glucose levels go up. Then, in an attempt to bring glucose levels down, the body steps up urination. Without consuming hydrating beverages, dehydration gets worse.

Metabolism and changing temperatures

The body's metabolism can change in response to high temperatures. This affects how the body absorbs insulin, leading to low glucose levels (hypoglycemia).2

Blood vessels and nerves

Damaged blood vessels and nerves is a common complication of type 2 diabetes. These can disrupt your body's ability to sweat.

When the body can't sweat sufficiently, the body holds onto excess heat. For example, nerve damage in the feet can make it hard to sense when the soles of the feet are burned from walking or standing on hot surfaces.

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Tips for staying safe in the heat

Much of the general advice for staying safe in extreme heat is probably familiar:2

  • Dress appropriately for the weather.
  • Stay out of the sun and heat as much as possible.
  • Use cool showers and wet compresses on the forehead or neck to cool the body.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Avoid strenuous activity.

With type 2 diabetes, monitoring your glucose levels is essential. You should check your blood sugar more often, especially when you're out or engaging in physical activity.

Don't ignore physical symptoms

Also, check in with how you're feeling physically and mentally. Being sweaty can be a normal cooling response to heat but also a symptom of glucose levels being out of whack.

Feeling light-headed can indicate dehydration or extreme glucose levels. The only way to know is to check, so keep your diabetes supplies on hand.

Properly store diabetes devices, supplies, and medications

Your diabetes devices, supplies, and medications can also be impacted by extreme heat.

Relatively short exposure to high temperatures can cause devices to give inaccurate readings and change medication effectiveness. A study reported significantly inaccurate readings from a glucometer and strips after exposing them to heat for as little as 15 minutes.3

Keep temperatures cool

Stay aware of temperatures. They can rise quickly and unexpectedly.

Know the target temperature range for your diabetes supplies and medications. Read the information sheets for your devices and testing supplies. Do the same for your medications, especially insulin and injectables. If you can't find the information you need or have questions, talk with your pharmacist or healthcare provider.

Be mindful of the temperature in the room, especially if there's no air conditioning. The contents of a dark-colored bag or purse can get hot from being in the sun. Never store diabetes supplies or medications in a closed-up car.

Insulated containers

Use cool packs and insulated containers to store supplies and medications. These can help keep supplies within their target temperature range. But be careful not to freeze drugs or supplies.

Portable thermometers

Use a small, portable thermometer that records the high and low temperatures to monitor heat exposure. Inexpensive versions of these thermometers are available where you can buy hiking and skiing supplies.

Stay cool and stay healthy

This summer promises to be a scorcher. With some planning and attention, you can still enjoy the season while avoiding the worst impacts the heat can have on diabetes!

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