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Managing Diabetes During Sick Days?

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
September 27, 2018
March 6, 2023

It is well known that managing diabetes is not an easy task and this may become more difficult when you are sick. Naturally when our body is stressed, it releases more stress hormones, like epinephrine (Adrenaline) and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. When you have diabetes, although your body might release more cortisol and blood sugars under stress, your body still has trouble taking up that extra sugar floating in the blood.

So why do our blood sugars rise when we are sick?

Sickness is a form of stress, so your body still makes more hormone cortisol and produces more glucose from storage when you are sick. The reason it does this is simply to give the body more energy to fight infection: be it a virus, bacteria or other disease. Such increase of your blood sugars can lead to a higher risk of Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar States (HHS) and very rarely Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). Most commonly, though, this can lead to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

Therefore, we always recommend being extra cautious with diet, exercise, medication adherence and diabetes monitoring. More frequently blood glucose monitoring is one of the simplest but most effective measures you can take during your illness. More importantly, you need to know when to contact your healthcare provider or to go to the Emergency Room. Ask your healthcare provider for sick day guidelines to suit your lifestyle.Read this for more tips on sick day management.

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