Handling Diabetes When You're Sick

Handling Diabetes When You're Sick

Whether your head feels like it's stuffed with cotton because you have a cold or you're spending a lot of time on the toilet because of a stomach bug, being sick is no fun for anyone.

For people with diabetes, being sick can also affect blood sugar levels. The good news is that taking a few extra precautions can help you keep your blood sugar levels under control.

How Illness Affects Blood Sugar Levels

When you get sick — whether it's a minor illness like a sore throat or cold or a bigger problem like dehydration or surgery — the body perceives the illness as stress. To relieve the stress, the body fights the illness. This process requires more energy than the body normally uses.

On one hand, this is good because it helps supply the extra fuel the body needs. On the other hand, in a person with diabetes, this can lead to high blood sugar levels. Some illnesses cause the opposite problem, though. If you don't feel like eating or have nausea or vomiting, and you're taking the same amount of insulin you normally do, you can develop blood sugar levels that are too low.

Blood sugar levels can be very unpredictable when you're sick. Because you can't be sure how the illness will affect your blood sugar levels, it's important to check blood sugar levels often on sick days and adjust your insulin doses as needed.

Planning for Sick Days

Your diabetes management plan will help you know what to do when you're sick. The plan might tell you:

In addition, people with diabetes should get the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against some serious infections. You should also get a flu shot every year. These vaccines may help you keep your diabetes under better control and cut down on the number of sick days you have.

What to Do When You're Sick

Your doctor will give you specific advice when you're sick. But here are some general guidelines:

When to Call Your Doctor

Your diabetes management plan will explain when you may need medical help. It will tell you what to do and whom to call. Here are some general reasons for calling the doctor:

Any time you have questions or concerns, ask your doctor for advice.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.





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Related Resources
OrganizationAmerican Diabetes Association (ADA) The ADA website includes news, information, tips, and recipes for people with diabetes.
Web SiteJoslin Diabetes Center The website of this Boston-based center has information about how to monitor blood sugar and manage diabetes.
OrganizationJuvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) JDRF's mission is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research.
Web SiteNational Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) NDEP is a partnership of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 200 public and private organizations. Its mission is to improve the treatment and outcomes for people with diabetes, to promote early diagnosis, and to prevent the onset of diabetes.
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