Dealing with diabetes and another illness can wipe you out. Make sure you have a sick day plan in place!
Life with a chronic condition is one thing, but throwing common illnesses like a cold, the flu, or even food poisoning into the mix alongside diabetes can make for a tricky challenge. Having a plan is key!
A few weeks ago, when I was driving home from a show with my husband and our daughter, I was feeling a little light-headed and unwell so I asked my husband to drive. I ended up throwing up into my purse. Unfortunately, this really happened ... What followed over the next 48 hours was a lot of vomiting, restless sleep, and the constant worry of common illnesses plus diabetes causing chaos. Thankfully, everything worked out okay, thanks in part to planning ahead for these situations.
My weekend with the flu reminded me of how diabetes can go from ho-hum to havoc in a matter of minutes and forced me to brush up on my sick day rules.
If you've come down with a common illness like the flu or a cold, you'll need to take special care of your diabetes. Here are some tips to help you weather the storm and keep your diabetes in check.
Keep Tabs on Your Blood Sugar
Even if your sinuses are entirely blocked or you're spending the day snuggling with the toilet, you need to know your numbers. Set an alarmed reminder on your phone to help you remember to check, ask a family member to call and remind you—whatever it takes. Take special note if you find your blood sugar running high, even after taking medication to bring it down. (This could warrant a call to your doctor. See below for more.)
Dehydration is super dangerous for people with diabetes because it can cause your body to go into diabetic ketoacidosis, also known as DKA. DKA is when your body starts to burn fat instead of glucose, which can lead to death in extreme circumstances. Keep water, sugar-free Popsicles, sugar-free ginger ale, and other hydration sources on hand and keep track of your urine output.
Check for Ketones
Check your urine with ketone strips, or your blood with a ketone detection meter, to see if you are spilling ketones into your urine. If your ketones are medium to high, call your doctor, as you may be in DKA.
If your blood sugar is running higher than target and not coming down after home treatment, you're unable to keep food or liquid down, and you are confused, lethargic, weak, or short of breath, call your doctor immediately.
Take Your Medication
Even though your cold or flu may be your main concern, don't forget to take your diabetes medications. Being sick doesn't mean you can skip your diabetes med doses—skipping could make things worse.
Know When to Seek Help
If you are spilling ketones into your urine, or if you can't keep anything down, or if you are having trouble breathing, or if you are running consistently high even after taking insulin, call your doctor immediately. Common illnesses can knock your diabetes into high, destructive gear and your health can take a nosedive quickly. Keep your doctor's number in your phone (maybe even on speed dial) and do not hesitate to call them if you are having trouble.
While dealing with diabetes and a cold or flu can be exhausting, paying close attention to your diabetes is important. Be sure to have a sick day plan before you're actually sick. And take heart—eventually the cold or flu will pass, leaving you feeling heaps better and grateful that it's just your pancreas that's misbehaving.
By Kerri Sparling
Kerri Sparling has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1986, when she was diagnosed at the age of seven. She is an internationally recognized diabetes advocate. Kerri is the creator and author of Six Until Me, which she established in 2005 and which remains one of the most widely-read diabetes patient blogs, reaching a global audience of patients, caregivers, and others in the industry. She has been featured on NPR, US News and World Report, CBNC, Yahoo! Health, LA Times, and The Lancet, among other national outlets.
Diabetes Self-Management, Planning Ahead for Sick Days
Everyday Health, Managing Diabetes With a Cold or Flu
Healthline, Checking Ketone Levels
Joslin Diabetes Center, Sick Days