Diabetes And The Flu: What You Need To Know

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Strategy #3: Hold Tight To Your Diabetes Management

This is the hard part, and it applies even if you have a simple cold and not the full-blown flu. When you’re sick, the last thing you want to do is be extra vigilant about blood glucose and carb counts (we recommend asking for help from family if possible). Being sick can cause abnormal changes to your blood sugar levels, and the fact that you may not be able to eat normally compounds those fluctuations. So roll up your pajama sleeves, and use these strategies to manage your sick-day diabetes:

  • Keep a journal. No, we’re not going to suggest that you write down details every time that you blow your nose. But keeping basic notes about weight, blood sugar levels, and what you eat can help you have a better overall view of your symptoms. In the brain-fog that comes with the flu, it’s hard to remain objective about how you’re progressing. Keeping a journal can help you have an objective overall view, and having that information could be hugely helpful to a doctor.
  • Keep taking your normal medications and insulin injections. Stress from illness can cause your blood glucose to rise, and eating less may cause a low, so basically, proceed with caution and don’t stop taking your normal medications unless your doctor advises you to do so.
  • Keep testing. Get lots of sleep and rest, but resist the urge to sleep all day because you should be checking glucose levels every 2 to 4 hours. Track the numbers in your journal, and keep sipping liquids!
  • Monitor your ketones. Your doctor can advise you how often you should be doing this. High blood sugar and dehydration raise your risk of ketoacidosis (more on that later) so make sure you are within safe levels.
  • Take your temperature and weigh yourself. Weighing yourself can help you understand what’s going on with your body and if you need to call your doctor. You should take your temperature in the morning and evening. Jot everything down in your journal!

Strategy #4: Call for backup

Hopefully, you are vigilant, get rest, and your body gets better on its own. But if symptoms get out of control you should call in the professionals. Call your doctor or go to the ER if you experience these symptoms:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea for more than 6 hours and you can’t keep food down
  • Moderate to high amounts of ketones in your urine
  • Blood glucose higher than 250 mg/dL even with extra insulin after checking twice
  • Blood glucose lower than 60 mg/dL after checking twice
  • Losing 5 pounds or more (check your journal!)
  • A fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Any signs of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)

One Final Caution

People with diabetes can develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when their blood sugar is extremely high. When glucose cannot get to your cells, your body is forced to burn purely fat for fuel. No, it’s not a diet plan—the body produces ketones when it burns fat, and when it burns only fat ketones accumulate in the blood and the body becomes acidic. Basically, the body is poisoning itself. DKA is a life-threatening condition.

DKA is more likely in people with type 1 diabetes than type 2, but it can happen in those with type 2, and people with type 2 diabetes can develop hypersomolar hyperglycemic syndrome, which is when blood sugar is high and a person is dehydrated, but ketones are not present. This is also a serious medical emergency.

We don’t share this information to frighten you, but we want everyone to be aware that the flu comes with real risks, and more so for people with diabetes. Please, have ketone strips on hand before you get sick, and talk to your doctor about sick-day strategies so that you’ll be prepared. The Diabetes Site wants everyone to remain healthy and happy. And if you do start feeling crummy, we hope that you feel better soon!

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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