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Diabetes: Sick Days

How does illness affect diabetes?

People with diabetes are more likely to get sick. This is because diabetes weakens the immune system, which is your body’s defense against infection.

Diabetes is harder to control when you are sick. The body releases hormones to help fight the illness. These hormones affect the way your body uses insulin, which can cause a rise in blood sugar. This means blood sugar can get very high during an illness. If high blood sugar is not treated, it can make you very sick and become a life-threatening medical emergency.

How do I prepare for illness?

It is good to be prepared for illness with a sick-day plan. Your healthcare provider will work with you to develop a plan designed especially for you. The plan may include:

  • When and how to contact your provider
  • How often to check your blood sugar when you are sick (you will need to check it more often)
  • How you should use your insulin or other diabetes medicines
  • What to do if you have a fever
  • What to do if you feel sick to your stomach or are throwing up
  • What foods and liquids are safe to eat and drink

You may also need to check for ketones in your blood or urine. If your body does not make enough insulin, sugar cannot move out of your blood and into your cells. Your blood sugar can get very high and your body burns fat instead of sugar for energy. This makes byproducts called ketones. When ketones build up to dangerous levels, it is called ketoacidosis. This can cause coma and be life-threatening if not treated right away. Ketoacidosis may happen with type 1 diabetes. It rarely happens with type 2 diabetes.

How can I take care of myself when I am sick?

  • Follow your sick-day plan.
  • Have your sick day plan written down where family or friends can find it so they also can know what to do.
  • Unless your healthcare provider tells you not to, keep taking your medicines when you are sick. If you are unable to take your diabetes medicine, call your provider.
  • If your stomach is upset, eat soft, plain foods and drink plenty of fluids. If you don’t drink enough, you may get dehydrated. Ask your healthcare provider about the best food and drink choices when you are sick and write them on your sick-day plan.
  • Keep your provider informed about how you are doing (whether you are getting worse or better and what your blood sugar readings are).

How can I keep from getting sick?

You can help prevent some infections by:

  • Stay up to date on immunizations. For example, get a flu shot every year.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash for at least 20 seconds (long enough to sing the whole “Happy Birthday” song twice) or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner if soap and water is not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth when you are out in public.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from people who are sick, if you can.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider's instructions.
  • Keep surfaces clean--especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom and kitchen, and toys for children. Some viruses and bacteria can live up to 48 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. Wipe them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the label.
  • Check your feet every day for signs of rash, injury, and infection.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-03
Last reviewed: 2015-01-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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