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Managing Diabetes When You're Sick

A weakened immune system puts your health at risk

A Veteran being taken care of by partnerFor most people, a sick day might mean rest in bed, drinking lots of liquids, and eating whatever bland foods you have on hand. If you're diabetic, it can be a little more challenging. Having a 'sick day plan' can give you confidence that if you get knocked down, you'll have what you need on hand. You'll be able to provide guidance to people around you who want to help. If you live alone, it's okay to ask someone to check on you.

Here are ways to have a sick day and not throw your health care plan out the window.

Sick day plan

You should have a sick-day plan customized for your needs that takes into account the medications you're on for your diabetes. This plan should be discussed with your provider before you get sick. In general, if you're taking short-acting insulin with food but are not eating because you feel ill, then you should only take your long-acting insulin. You should be sure to stay well hydrated, but with liquids that contain little or no sugar, unless you're able to take short acting insulin to cover the amount of glucose in the liquids you drink (read the labels).

What should you eat?

If you're sick, you may not have much of an appetite. If you can't eat, try fruit juice, regular gelatin, frozen juice bars, and drink at least 1 glass of liquid every half hour or as instructed by your health care team if you have other medical conditions.

Keep your levels healthy

Even though eating the right foods helps, you can keep your levels in a healthy range by checking your blood sugar and ketones regularly if you have type 1 diabetes or you're advised to do so by your diabetes team. You should also keep taking your medicines. If you have a cough or sore throat, use Secure Messaging, and ask your doctor if it's okay to take sugar-free cough drops. 

When should I call the doctor?

If you're having a sick day and notice any of the following signs, you should contact your health care team:

  • You vomit or have diarrhea for more than 6 hours, or are unable to drink because of nausea

  • Your blood sugar level is higher than usual or more than 300 mg/dL even after you have taken extra insulin (if recommended in your sick-day plan) or lower than 70 mg/dL

  • You take oral medicine, and your blood sugar is higher than usual or over 300 mg/dL, before a meal and stays that high for more than 24 hours

  • You feel weak standing up or feel dehydrated

  • If you're feeling short of breath, have chest pain

  • You can't stay awake or are easily confused

Make sure you and your health care team closely monitor your medications during sick days. As you watch your health, use My HealtheVet's Track Health feature to monitor your blood sugar, and food journal to keep track of what you're eating.

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Have you developed a sick day plan with your doctor?

Read More

Diabetes: Sick Day Plan (Veterans Health Library)

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Created May 18, 2020