"Sick Day" Diabetes Self-Management

My husband and I visited family in Colorado between Christmas and New Years, and I noticed so many sick people in airports, on our flights, and in restaurants that I promised myself I would write a post for you reviewing how to manage diabetes when you’re sick as soon as we got home. Then I got sick!

Impact of sickness on blood sugar levels

This is a big deal for me. I’m not quite to wearing surgical masks all winter (yet), but I try very, very hard to avoid influenza, the common cold, norovirus (stomach “flu) or anything else precisely because of the impact illness has on blood sugar. I get my flu shot, I wash my hands regularly and I will avoid contact with friends or family who are sick. This time something went wrong -- 101° temperature, stuffy head, and, of course, higher than normal blood sugar readings.

Higher than normal blood sugar readings are “normal” when we’re sick because illness puts our body in fight mode, fighting the infection. But, higher than normal blood sugar readings just add to how lousy we feel. Plus, feeling lousy can interfere with our ability to manage our blood sugar levels effectively. Our eating may be different than on days when we are feeling well, and we may not be able to exercise or be physically active when we are under the weather. It can be a frustrating circle.

How to control blood sugar levels when sick

What you can do:

  1. Try to stay on a healthy eating plan and if your blood sugar is running higher than target, you may want to focus on lower carbohydrate food choices at meal time. If you take insulin, talk to your medical team about changing your basal/long-acting insulin dose temporarily.
  2. Stay hydrated with zero-calorie beverages like water, hot tea or broth.
  3. Monitor your blood sugar more often, and watch for any unusual patterns or trends. If you find your blood sugar levels continue to trend high, contact your doctor’s office to share your blood sugar readings and discuss possible medication modifications while you are sick.

A rare, but very serious, complication with type 2 diabetes called hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (sometimes hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic syndrome or similar) can result from high blood glucose levels (usually 600 mg/dl) coupled with severe dehydration, often related to illness. This can be life threatening and is something to be aware of if glucose levels are running exceptionally high.

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