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How the Flu Affects People with Diabetes

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Updated October 31, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The flu can be a dangerous illness for someone with diabetes. It can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and lead to some serious complications. If you have diabetes, or care about someone who does, make sure you are prepared for the flu.

Know What to Watch For

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Muscle and Body Aches
  • Fatigue and Exhaustion
  • Headache

Something that diabetics have to be particularly concerned about is the loss of appetite that accompanies the flu. Just getting sick can affect your blood glucose levels, but when you lose your appetite and don't eat, they fluctuate even more. This can be incredibly dangerous if it isn't controlled very closely.

Don't stop taking your diabetes medication or insulin if you get sick. If you aren't sure what to do about your medication and you feel like you can't eat, contact your health care provider.

Monitor your blood sugar levels closely -- at least every 4 hours. Keep track of the results when you are sick and contact your health care provider if you have trouble keeping your blood glucose levels in the appropriate range.

Try to stick to your normal diet as much as possible. If you can't eat like you normally do, drink extra fluids and eat soft foods with equal the carbohydrates that you typically consume.

Weigh yourself daily. If you lose weight without trying, contact your health care provider right away. This can be a sign of high blood glucose levels.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you have diabetes, you probably have a diabetes management plan. Know when to contact your health care provider based on your plan.

If you get the flu or any flu-like illness, you should seek medical attention if:

  • You lose 5 pounds or more.
  • You have a fever over 101 degrees F.
  • You have severe diarrhea.
  • You are vomiting and unable to keep any food down for 6 hours.
  • You feel too sick to eat for 6 hours.
  • You are having trouble breathing.
  • You have moderate or large ketones in your urine.
  • You feel abnormally sleepy or can't think clearly.

How to Protect Yourself

The CDC recommends that everyone with diabetes over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine. Get your flu shot as soon as it is available each flu season and make sure your family members and those around you get theirs too.

Get your pneumonia vaccine. Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu. It can be deadly -- especially for those with diabetes. Make sure you get this important vaccine as well.

Contact your health care provider right away if you notice flu symptoms. Antiviral medications are available to help reduce the severity of your symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness if they are started within the first 48 hours. If a close contact (family member or someone you are in contact with on a daily basis) is diagnosed with the flu, tell your health care provider. Antiviral medications can be used to help prevent the flu in some situations.

Don't take chances with your health. If you have diabetes and get sick with the flu, take care of yourself, monitor your symptoms closely and seek medical attention right away if you notice any signs of serious problems.

Source:

"Diabetes and the Flu." Flu.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services. 27 Oct 11.

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