What are Flu Complications for Diabetics?

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If you have diabetes, you may have a compromised immune system, which makes it harder for you to recover, and secondary infections like pneumonia or bronchitis are more likely to develop.

What happens when you are sick

The flu, like any other illness, can cause your blood sugar to rise to unsafe levels or because of the symptoms, you may not feel like eating, which can cause your blood sugar to drop too low. Either situation can cause a diabetic coma, which is a life-threatening complication that causes unconsciousness. You won’t be able to wake up or respond to any stimuli until your blood sugar stabilizes. Left untreated can result in death.

When you are sick, your body is under stress and it’s response is to release hormones that will help fight the disease. However, those hormones have side effects. For diabetics, it not only raises your blood sugar levels, but it also interferes with your insulin or other diabetic medication’s ability to regulate your blood sugar.

Sick Day Guidelines for Diabetics

The CDC reports that if you are a diabetic, you are three times more likely to develop complications from the flu. The American Diabetes Association recommends you establish a plan with your doctor or diabetes educator that includes:

  • How often to measure your blood sugar and urine ketones
  • What medications to take
  • How to eat
  • When to call your Diabetes Team

Make sure you note phone numbers for your doctor and/or team, and include the numbers where you can reach them after hours or on holidays.

When to Call your Diabetes Team

While you do not need to call your Diabetes Team every time you are not feeling well, it is important to know when you should. Be sure to contact them if any of the following happens:

  • You have been sick and/or had a fever for a couple of days.
  • Your glucose levels are higher than 240 despite taking an extra dose of insulin your sick-day plan calls for.
  • If you take oral diabetic medication, and your blood sugar climbs to more than 240 before meals and doesn’t drop for 24 hours or more.
  • You have had diarrhea or been vomiting for more than six hours.
  • You have moderate to large amounts of ketones in your urine.
  • You have symptoms of ketoacidosis (fruity smelling breath), dehydration (dry, cracked lips or tongue), difficulty breathing, or chest pain.

Take Notes

If you do need to contact your diabetic team or physician about your symptoms, you will want to be prepared by writing them all down ahead of time. Since you are not feeling well, it is best to note these symptoms as they develop, because you may not remember everything during the time you speak with someone. Be sure to record the following:

  • How long you have been sick
  • What medications you have taken including how much
  • Your blood glucose level
  • Whether you are eating and keeping food down
  • Whether you have lost any weight
  • Your urine ketone level
  • Your temperature

Remember, as a diabetic, you should make a plan of care for sick days ahead of time. Be sure to speak with your doctor soon and follow the directives above, so that you are prepared for this year’s cold and flu season.

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