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Managing Diabetes during Illness

As a pervasive health condition, diabetes can complicate what would otherwise be minor health concerns for most people. Luckily, there are steps we can take in order to protect ourselves.

What should we do in order to manage illness?

In the most ideal setting, the best we can do is try to prevent illness in the first place by washing our hands regularly, and getting preventative vaccinations where available. The CDC recommends that people with diabetes get regular preventative vaccinations for the flu and for pneumonia.1 This is because getting sick is very stressful on the body, and it can potentially severely complicate diabetes management. It can leave us dehydrated, feverish, and sometimes unable to eat regular meals, let alone find the strength to do the right things.

When we do get sick, however, there are steps we can take in order to prevent complications:

Test, test, test.

Blood glucose may fluctuate wildly during illness. If we test our blood glucose levels when we feel unwell, we can KNOW what to do in order to make the most appropriate choices about our care – should we have a snack, should we have insulin, should we take a glucose tab? TEST.

Exercise care with over the counter medications.

Many over the counter medications contain high levels of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. There are some medications which are made expressly for persons with diabetes, or we can choose to take medication in the form of tablets or gel caps. Consult any potential side effects or interactions with a primary care physician or pharmacist.

Have small meals.

Consume small meals every few hours that contain 15 grams of carbohydrate. Simple things, like a ½ cup of orange juice, can help us keep level blood sugars when we’re having a hard time eating. (A good way to keep refreshed and hydrated during summer illness is to turn ½ cup portions of a favorite fruit juice into freezer pops.) There are also meal replacement drinks out there for persons with diabetes of various kinds. Study all labels for the best nutrition content.

Drink plenty of fluids.

Being dehydrated concentrates the level of glucose in blood and can lead to dangerous complications like diabetic ketoacidosis, or diabetic hyperosmolarity.

Do not exercise.

When we’re sick, it’s tempting to want to feel the goodness of exercise – especially when it’s routine – but exercise can increase the likelihood of dehydration related glucose complications, like those mentioned above.

Keep cool.

Summer is a challenging time for being sick. Take cooling showers, and wear light, loose clothing. Try to keep as comfortable as possible and limit time outdoors.

Plan for an emergency:

  1. Keep glucose tabs or gels on hand, in case your blood glucose gets too low;
  2. Ketone strips in case you become dehydrated and your blood glucose gets too high;
  3. Keep extra testing supplies; and
  4. Contact numbers for your primary care physician, urgent care, etc.

Most importantly — don’t let the situation get out of hand.

If you are experiencing dangerous glucose levels, or feel extremely ill and your condition is not improving, do not wait to seek medical care. Common complications, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, can snowball if not caught with time.

Being sick when we have diabetes is no walk in the park and can sometimes be downright dangerous. We should always try to do the best we can to prevent illness in the first place, but when illness can’t be helped, taking the right precautionary steps can help us weather the storms.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.