April 15, 2024

Managing Diabetes When You’re Sick: Essential Tips

Many aspects of everyday life are more difficult when you’re managing diabetes, and that includes taking care of other illnesses. While colds and the flu can be inconvenient for anyone, having diabetes can increase your odds of getting seriously sick….

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Many aspects of everyday life are more difficult when you’re managing diabetes, and that includes taking care of other illnesses. While colds and the flu can be inconvenient for anyone, having diabetes can increase your odds of getting seriously sick. Meanwhile, these conditions put extra stress on your body, potentially increasing your blood sugar levels and making blood glucose management more challenging.

Whether you’ve just started living with diabetes or you’re a long-term diabetes patient getting ready to deal with an oncoming cold, it’s crucial to know how to prepare for illness while managing diabetes. Keep reading for US MED’s advice for sick day management diabetes patients should keep in mind.

How to prepare before getting sick

No one can totally eliminate their flu risk, but you can take steps to make sure you’ll be well-equipped to deal with this disease and other illnesses. When you’re in good health, take some time to make sure you’re stocked up on:

Medicine and supplies

  • Insulin
  • Other diabetes meds and supplies
  • A thermometer
  • Pain relievers
  • Antacids
  • Medicine for diarrhea control
  • Milk of magnesia
  • Suppositories for vomiting treatment


Proper food

  • Applesauce (unsweetened)
  • Instant pudding
  • Crackers
  • Instant cooked cereals
  • Non-diet soft drinks
  • Regular gelatin
  • Canned soup
  • Juice boxes
  • Sports drinks

An action plan created with your health care team 

While the information included in this article can be helpful, it can’t replace a plan created with your personal needs in mind. Along with the items listed above, you should check in with your diabetes healthcare team to make sure you have a strategy for illness management.

Depending on what you need, your action plan might cover:

  • Your blood sugar testing schedule while sick
  • Foods and fluids you can take
  • Strategies for adjusting medication dosage
  • Ketone testing information
  • Over-the-counter medications you can use
  • When to call healthcare professionals (such as when you are vomiting, have had diarrhea more than three times within 24 hours, or have had a fever above 101° F for a full day)

How to manage your blood sugar

Sometimes, people who are sick aren’t able to eat full meals. If that’s the case for you, you’ll need to find another way to get 50 grams of carbs every four hours or so. The foods and fluids listed above can help – consuming 1 ½ cups of applesauce or fruit juice can help you to reach this target.

Tips and tricks

  • Continue following your regular diabetes medication schedule unless a medical professional has told you to adjust this schedule while sick
  • Test your blood sugar once every four hours, and keep track of your readings
  • Weigh yourself daily (unexpected weight loss can indicate high glucose levels)
  • Check your temperature every day and night for fever
  • Eat as close to normal as you can, and drink extra calorie-free fluids

Diabetes testing supplies

To ensure you’ll be able to keep up on blood sugar testing while sick, you’ll want to ensure you have a surplus of diabetes testing supplies at all times. Depending on what you need, this could include:

  • CGM sensors and supplies 
  • Glucometer
  • Glucose test strips
  • Lancets and lancing device
  • Control solutions
  • Insulin pen needles/syringes

How to watch for signs of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)


What is DKA in diabetes?

When you don’t have enough insulin, your body may start burning fat for energy, producing ketones as a result. That, in turn, could put you at risk of developing DKA, or “diabetic ketoacidosis” – a life-threatening complication of diabetes.

If ketones build up in your bloodstream, they can make your blood more acidic. In large amounts, ketones can act as a form of poison. When this happens, you’ll need medical treatment for diabetic ketoacidosis to avoid diabetic coma or death.

What are the warning signs of DKA?

Because your blood glucose levels increase while you are sick, your risk of experiencing DKA is higher than usual at this time. To stay safe, it’s a good idea to test for ketones every four to six hours while dealing with illness or when blood glucose is above 250 mg/dL..

Along with that, look out for these warning signs of diabetic ketoacidosis:

  • Confusion
  • “Fruity-smelling” breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed or dry skin
  • Drowsiness
  • Needing to urinate more frequently than normal
  • Abnormal thirstiness

Of course, some of these symptoms overlap with symptoms of colds or the flu. However, it’s much better to be safe than sorry when dealing with the threat of DKA. If you spot any of these DKA symptoms, contact your healthcare provider or head to the closest emergency room as soon as possible.

What to do if you get sick

With the instructions in this article, you’ll be well on your way to managing most common illnesses while keeping your diabetes under control. Along with the topics we’ve already covered, you may want to:

Prepare a sick-day kit

Having a sick-day kit prepared ahead of time will make it easier for you to recover from a cold or the flu. Items you might want to put in your kit include:

  • A glucose meter
  • Spare batteries
  • Insulin pump/CGM supplies
  • Ketone test strips
  • One week’s worth of glucose-lowering medication (to be stored no longer than 30 days before use)
  • Glucose gels/tabs
  • Flu/cold medications that won’t affect your diabetes management

Get diabetes supplies delivered to your home

No matter how prepared you are to deal with life, illness can sneak up on you out of nowhere. Because of that, it’s wise to have a Plan B for diabetes sick day management. If you need to get extra diabetes testing supplies delivered to your home quickly and reliably, you can count on US MED!


Written by: US MED Staff

Shirley DeLeon Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist Clinically Reviewed by: Shirley DeLeon, RD, CDCES

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