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Diabetes and the Flu: What You Should Do

This article was updated on December 6, 2018. 

Flu season is upon us, and this can be a problem for people with diabetes. Getting sick can affect your blood sugar and cause serious health complications like diabetic ketoacidosis, so it’s important to stay healthy during flu season. Here’s what you need to know about diabetes and the flu.

How the flu affects diabetes

Increased blood sugar. The flu can cause an increase in blood sugar, and if you’re already feeling terrible, you may not notice the change. Doctors recommend you test your blood sugar ever 3-4 hours while ill. You may need to adjust your insulin while ill, so contact your doctor immediately if you think you are getting the flu.

Pneumonia. People with diabetes are especially susceptible to flu complications, including pneumonia. To avoid major complications, contact your doctor at the first sign of illness. Flu symptoms include fever, severe aches and pains, weakness, headache, and sore throat.

Diabetic ketoacidosis. If you aren’t eating regularly while ill, you could develop diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous buildup of ketones in the bloodstream that can result in excessive thirst, frequent urination, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue, and confusion. Seek medical help immediately if you think you have diabetic ketoacidosis.

Nausea and vomiting. If you experience nausea and vomiting, it can be difficult to control your blood sugar. Doctors recommend you eat about 15 grams of carbs every hour or so, like a slice of bread, a cup of yogurt, or a cup of soup. If you have trouble keeping food down, ask your doctor about anti-nausea medication.

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Tips for staying healthy with diabetes and the flu

  1. Get a flu shot. Getting a flu shot is the best way to safeguard your health and your first opportunity to prevent contracting the flu.
  2. Call your doctor at the first sign of illness. In some cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe you medication to alleviate your symptoms or cut down on amount of time you’ll be sick.
  3. Stay home if you’re sick. Don’t spread the flu to other people; stay home and keeping your germs contained.
  4. Get plenty of sleep. Getting plenty of rest is the best way to fight off the flu.
  5. Check your blood sugar regularly. Doctors recommend checking your blood sugar every 3-4 hours while you have the flu.
  6. Track your symptoms. Tracking your symptoms (including food intake) can help you stay on top of your blood sugar.