Illness Presents Diabetics With Special Challenges

Managing medications when sick can keep complications at arm's length, group advises

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SUNDAY, Jan. 20, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- When people with diabetes get a flu, cold or other illness, it can be a challenge to take care of their diabetes. But they need to do so or risk serious complications, says the American Diabetes Association.

"People with diabetes have special considerations when they are under the weather," Ann Albright, the ADA's president of health care and education, said in a prepared statement. "It is important to have a plan with your health-care team in place before you become sick to avoid getting worse. It is also critical to get a flu shot every year to potentially avoid getting influenza."

The ADA offers the following diabetes-management tips for diabetics who are ill:

  • Check blood glucose levels every three to four hours. Also, if you've been instructed by your health-care team, check for ketones in your urine every few hours. Ketones, a waste product produced when the body begins to use stored fat for energy, can build up if a diabetic doesn't take insulin at regular intervals. High ketone levels can lead to ketoacidosis, which can lead to coma or death.
  • Unless told otherwise by your doctor, don't stop taking insulin or other medications.
  • Even if you've lost your appetite, try to eat. The ADA recommends at least 15 grams of carbohydrates about every hour.
  • If you're vomiting or have diarrhea, or have a fever, try to drink a cup of fluid each hour to prevent dehydration. If your blood glucose level is too high, try sugar-free liquids such as water or broth. If your blood glucose level is low, try drinking liquids with about 15 grams of carbohydrates in them, such as a half a cup of apple juice or one cup of milk.
  • Talk to your doctor before you take any over-the-counter cold or flu medicines, because some of them can increase blood glucose or blood pressure levels.
  • Call your doctor if: there is a rise in ketones or if there are ketones in your urine for more than 12 hours; if you've been vomiting or had diarrhea for more than six hours; if you have a fever that keeps going up or one that lasts more than a day; if you have abdominal pain; or if you can't control your blood glucose levels.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about diabetes control.

SOURCE: American Diabetes Association, news release, January 2008

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