It is important to know how to cope with illness if you have diabetes or know or care for somebody with the condition. This section explains how to be prepared for illness. In addition it provides guidance on how to manage your insulin or other diabetes medications, your blood or urine tests and your diet during illness.
Illness and infections, as well as other forms of stress, will raise your blood glucose levels. As part of the body’s defence mechanism for fighting illness and infection, more glucose is released into the bloodstream and prevents insulin from working properly. This happens even if you are off your food or eating less than usual.
People who do not have diabetes simply produce more insulin to cope, but when you have diabetes, your body cannot do this. As a result, your blood glucose levels rise, causing you to pass more urine and feel thirsty. This in turn can make you dehydrated. The symptoms of high blood glucose can add to those of the original illness or infection and make it much worse. For example dehydration is made worse when you have a temperature or are being sick.
In some cases, diabetes can become so uncontrolled that treatment in hospital is necessary. Severe dehydration and very high blood glucose levels can be serious for both those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. That’s why being prepared, and following the necessary steps when ill, is vital to manage your diabetes well and avoid the worst effects of illness.
Some conditions (eg Addison's disease, severe asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus) are treated with steroids. if you have diabetes, you may well find that your blood glucose levels rise while taking high-doses of steroids for periods of time. This should not stop you taking steroids if your doctor has prescribed them, even if your blood glucose levels are affected, but you should discuss with your doctor how best to manage your diabetes while taking steroids. You may need an increase in medication or your medication to be changed. If the steroids have been prescribed for a short period to manage a deterioration in your condition, your blood glucose levels will usually return to normal when you stop taking them.
Reviewed December 2009
Next review June 2011