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How to Manage Diabetes When You’re Sick

December 01, 2016 | Dr. Christopher Brown

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managing-diabetes-sick.jpgYou’ve done a good job managing your diabetes and keeping your blood sugar under control. Then, you catch a nasty cold or the flu. Maybe you’re too tired to check the carbs in the honey-flavored cough drops you’ve been sucking on all day. Or maybe you’re so sick that you can’t keep food down. Either way, you’ll want a game plan for preventing blood sugar highs and lows when illness strikes.

Ideally, you’ll come up with this plan with the help of your doctor before you get sick. This “sick day plan” should include meals and a list of medications that would work for a cold or flu. Your doctor also will be aware of any extra precautions you should take based on your personal medical history.

Let’s start off with the very worst thing you can do—let your blood sugar get out of control. That will only make you feel worse than you already do and, as your doctor has surely told you, can be dangerous to your health.

So let’s talk strategy. Many people with diabetes, especially newly diagnosed, reason that because they’re eating next to nothing, they don’t need to take their medicine. While it’s true that eating less lowers blood sugar, it’s also true that inactivity and illness can raise it. The only way to really know your blood glucose level is to check it with a glucometer. When you’re sick, doctors actually recommend checking it more often—every two to four hours. If you’re feeling too sick to test, have someone do it for you.

The next step is to stay hydrated while also avoiding sugary drinks. Instead, choose sugar-free drinks like tea, water or sugar-free ginger ale, aiming for 1 cup every hour. If your blood sugar is low, try something with about 15 grams of carbs. That could be a ¼ cup of grape juice, for example, or 1 cup of a sports energy drink.

If possible, stick to your normal meal plan. But if you can't eat much, try to get at least 45 to 50 grams of carbohydrate every three to four hours. That could be six saltine crackers, a 3-ounce frozen juice bar, one slice of toast or five vanilla wafers.

Choose sugar-free cough syrup or throat lozenges, if possible. Also, be aware that decongestants, even if sugar-free, can raise blood glucose levels.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, it’s best to call your doctor. It’s important to make that call if:

  • You have two or more consecutive blood sugar readings of 250 or higher.
  • You have uncontrollable nausea or diarrhea.
  • You can’t keep fluids down.
  • You can’t keep medication down (because of vomiting).
  • You have moderate to large amounts of ketones.
  • You are alone and too sick to care for yourself.

Of course, the best thing you can do is avoid getting ill in the first place. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that all people over 6 months old get a flu vaccine, it is especially important for those with diabetes. Vigilant hand washing is an equally important defense.

Diabetes is a serious, but very manageable, disease. Do you feel like you don’t have a good handle on how to manage diabetes? Call us today at 419-752-4331 (Greenwich) or 419-935-0196 (Willard) to schedule an appointment. With a little guidance and effort, you can control your blood sugar levels—and your life.

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