How to Plan Ahead for Sick Days with Diabetes

Blood sugar can become more difficult to manage when you're ill. Knowing what to do in advance may help you recover faster. Here's our handy guide to planning ahead for sick days with diabetes.


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Tips for When You're Sick and Have Diabetes

Keeping your blood sugar under control means having routines and sticking to them. You know what to eat and when to eat. You know how often to check your blood sugar and what to do if it's too high or too low. But when you get sick, everything changes. Routine illnesses such as flu, sore throats, and stomach viruses can be especially challenging for people with diabetes. Even though you might not want to get out of bed to brush your teeth, you must stay on top of your blood sugar.

Check Your Blood Sugar

You might think that because you don't have an appetite and aren't eating as much as usual, you don't have to check your blood sugar as often or take your medications as regularly. But in fact, just the opposite is true.

"Any illness creates stress in the body as it tries to get rid of infection," says Fernando Ovalle, M.D., an endocrinologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. "This can increase levels of certain hormones, which can in turn cause an increase in glucose levels, even if you aren't eating very much," he says.

On top of that, when you are ill -- especially if you have a fever -- judging your blood sugar levels based on how you feel can be difficult. Angela Gaskins-Younger of Branford, Connecticut, who has had type 2 diabetes since 1993, learned this the scary way. Angela, 50, knew she was coming down with something; she had a fever and wasn't feeling good. She checked her blood sugar and it was high, so she took some rapid-acting insulin. But she took too much. Soon she began to feel shaky and sweaty, which are symptoms of low blood sugar.

"I wasn't sure if the shakiness and the sweating were due to the fever or my blood sugar being too low," Angela says. "I just couldn't think clearly." Fortunately, she soon managed to get her glucose under control without a 911 call.

"Now I keep a blood glucose meter, glucose tablets, and a box of juice right by the bed," Angela says.

Joyce Lekarcyk, RN, CDE, clinical education program manager at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, advises keeping one word in mind when you are sick: more. More blood glucose checks, more fluids, and sometimes more medication.

"Even if you take one or more pills, you may have to take on insulin temporarily," she says.

Don't wait until you are sick to prepare for those sick days. Talk with your health care provider and make a game plan today. With a little planning and extra care, routine illnesses will stay just that -- routine.

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