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Getting down with the flu – How to manage diabetes when you are ill

8 December 2019

Seasonal influenza, also referred to as “the flu,” is estimated to affect 5-15% of the population1 each year. While the flu can be mild and uncomplicated for most people, it can be a more serious problem for the elderly, the young, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions – such as diabetes.

More than 425 million adults2 across the world have diabetes. If you have diabetes, you may have a weaker immune system3, making it harder for your body to fight off an infection. This means you may not only be more likely to get sick than other people, but you may be at an increased risk of complications. Just getting sick can increase your blood sugar. Not to mention that when you are sick, it is difficult to eat regularly, which also affects blood sugar levels.

The best thing you can do is to plan ahead. Create your own action plan to prevent the flu and take care of yourself by knowing when it is time to get help if you do get sick.

Steps to preventing the flu

According to the Diabetes UK6, the best way to prevent coming down with the flu is to make sure you get your flu jab each year. They recommend the injection over the nasal spray vaccine (only available for children), which is not recommended for people with diabetes. The vaccine has been proven to be safe, effective, and you don’t need to worry about getting the flu from the jab.

You may also want to talk to your doctor about getting the pneumonia vaccine. Since one of the most common complications of the flu is pneumonia, it is often recommended for people with diabetes.

Washing your hands regularly also helps reduce the spread of colds and the flu. Regular soap and water kill germs, and if you aren’t able to access soap and water, an alcohol-based sanitizer can do the job. Taking time to get enough sleep can reduce your risk of getting sick too, so make sure you’re getting your 7-8 hours each night.

Tips for managing diabetes while you’re down with the flu

Even if you take steps to prevent the flu, it is still possible to get sick with a cold or different flu strain. Typically you will only experience a milder cold if you have been vaccinated against the flu.

Common symptoms of the flu4 may include:

  • Aching muscles
  • Pain and aching of the joints
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Flushed, warm skin
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea

While you’re down with the flu, follow these important tips:

  • Tip #1 – Check your blood sugar regularly – You may need to check your blood sugar more often while you’re sick. The body produces more stress hormones5 that can make it tougher for the body to regulate your insulin while you are sick. Try checking your blood sugar every two to four hours or as advised by your healthcare professional to ensure it is staying close to normal. If you notice it’s rising, call your doctor. Your doctor may adjust your insulin dose or diabetes medicine while you are sick to help regulate your blood sugar.
  • Tip #2 – Pay attention to over-the-counter medicine labels – If you take over-the-counter medicines while you are sick, check the labels to make sure they are not packed with sugar. Many cough syrups contain sugar7, which can increase your blood sugar level. Talk to your pharmacist about options that have low sugar or no sugar content.
  • Tip #3 – Get fuel and fluids – Even if you are feeling sick, you still need to get nutrients into your body, to avoid your blood sugar falling too low. Staying hydrated is also essential since dehydration can raise blood sugar.
  • Tip #4 – Check your weight – If you lose more than a couple of pounds, it could be a sign that your blood sugar is too high.

Helpful items to have on hand while you are sick include:

  • Thermometer for checking your temperature
  • Glucose meter, strips, and lancing device to check blood sugar levels regularly
  • Glucose tablets if you are unable to eat
  • Paracetamol for lowering a fever
  • Additional insulin and needles/cannulas if you’re on insulin 

Know when you need help

Since people with diabetes are at an increased risk of complications with the flu and colds, it is essential to know when it is time to get extra help. If you are too sick to eat or keep food down for six hours or more, you should seek emergency medical attention. Other signs that you need to visit a doctor or A&E department immediately include4:  

  • A high fever
  • You lose five pounds or more
  • Severe diarrhoea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive sleepiness or confusion
  • Blood sugar that’s higher than 13.9 mmol/L or lower than 3.3mmol/L

Yes, getting the flu does pose a higher risk for people with diabetes. However, with this effective plan, you will be prepared to monitor blood sugar levels, deal with the symptoms, and get back on your feet as quickly as possible.

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The views expressed in the Accu-Chek blog are not necessarily those of Roche Diabetes Care Limited or our publishers. The content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely – you must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content. Although we make reasonable efforts to ensure that the content is up to date, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content is accurate, complete or up-to-date.


  6. -your-diabetes/flu-jab