When it’s cold, there may be more to managing diabetes than you expect.
On this page:
- How cold weather can affect diabetes
- Checking your blood sugar levels
- Looking after your feet
- Taking care of your medication and diabetes kit
- Getting your flu and Covid jabs
- Cold weather and your mental health
- Financial side of cold weather
- Eating well and planning meals
- Staying active in the colder months
Cold weather can slow blood flow around the body, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Living with diabetes increases your risk of these complications therefore it is important to stay warm and know how to manage your blood sugar levels during cold weather.
If you are living with diabetes complications, for example heart disease or nerve pain (neuropathy), cold weather can make this worse for some people. Cold weather can raise blood pressure and if it’s too high, it puts extra strain on the body. It affects how the blood flows around the body and circulation to your hands and feet can slow down, which could make neuropathy more painful in these areas.
NHS advice is to heat your home to at least 18°C in the rooms that you regularly use and to keep bedroom windows closed at night. This is particularly important if you have a health condition like diabetes. Here's the NHS guide to staying well this winter.
Keeping warm by heating your home will help, but we know it’s not as simple as that with the cost of living. You might be entitled to grants or benefits to help make your home more energy efficient – the Citizen's Advice website is a good place to start and you can choose the advice based on where you live in the UK.
If you’re worried about any of this advice or have specific questions – give our free helpline a call or get in touch with your healthcare team.
“My tip would be to wear warm clothing before you felt cold. Not waiting until you were already feeling chilly. I often layer my socks which I find helps. A thin pair next to my skin and a thicker pair over the top. And try thermal vests and leggings.”
- Get more from our online forum members.
If you usually check your own blood sugar levels, keep a closer eye on them during the winter months. Monitoring them more regularly can help with managing your diabetes.
You might find the cold makes it more difficult to draw a drop of blood for finger-prick testing, so try warming up your fingers using hand warmers, holding a warm cup of tea or wearing gloves just before you check. However if you have peripheral neuropathy in your hands or fingers with any changes in sensation it can be difficult to feel how hot things are. So don't hold a hot cup to warm your hands and if you use handwarmers check that they are suitable for you to use.
Living with diabetes means you are at greater risk of developing serious foot problems. Although you may need to layer up, remember to still take your shoes and socks off each day to check your feet thoroughly for any sign of a foot problem.
If you have neuropathy in your feet, be extra careful if you use a hot water bottle, electric blanket or heater to keep warm. If using a hot water bottle fill with hot water not boiling water and ensure it has a cover. Always remove the hot water bottle from your bed before getting in. If using an electric blanket always turn it off before getting into bed and make sure you have checked the manufacturer’s recommendations before use. This is because if you’ve lost sensation in your feet you may not notice when they are getting too hot and starting to burn.
Take a look at our guide for how to look after your feet.
If you take insulin to treat your diabetes, keep a close eye on how you store it. Insulin can freeze if it is left out in extreme cold so keep your insulin that is in use at room temperature, for more information on how to store insulin, visit our what is insulin page.
Blood sugar testing equipment and insulin pump handsets can also be affected by the cold so keep these at room temperature or if you are outside keep them in an inside pocket.
It’s really important people with diabetes get their free NHS flu jab and Covid booster, to protect themselves from getting ill. This is because winter is when viruses circulate most and people living with diabetes are at a higher risk of complications associated with flu and Covid.
Getting both vaccines is the best way to protect yourself from getting flu and Covid. The NHS have more information on vaccinations and staying well this winter on their website.
If you do get unwell you may find it more difficult to manage your blood sugars and keep them within range. Make sure you contact your healthcare team for advice and follow your sick day rules.
Get more information and support on managing diabetes when you're unwell.
The cold winter months and shorter daylight hours can affect us mentally, as well as physically. It can make us feel low, lethargic and even depressed. And this year, more people may be finding it tougher than usual, with the cost of living crisis adding extra stress. When you have diabetes, these emotions can impact on your blood sugar levels too.
Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Talking to other people about how you’re feeling isn’t always easy, but it can help. This could be your healthcare team, a family member, or even a stranger on our online support forum.
Find advice and support on coping with different emotions, including videos from people living with diabetes.
We know that many people living with diabetes or caring for a loved one with diabetes have been struggling with the cost of living, including energy bills. In May 2023 we published research in our report The Hidden Cost showing the impact that this can have on managing diabetes.
That’s why we want Ofgem to make sure that people with diabetes have guaranteed protection against energy disconnection and to permanently stop forced pre-payment meter installation. We also support the Guarantee Our Essentials campaign calling for Universal Credit to be enough to cover the cost of essentials like energy bills, so that more people can have the warm home that they need to stay well.
If you need further support with the cost-of-living crisis, you can visit our cost of living support page for advice and resources.
You might be surprised to hear that alcohol can make your blood vessels dilate and cause you to lose more heat from your body. So drinking alcohol isn't a quick fix to warm you up, it will have the opposite effect and make you colder.
Winter can mean you’re not as active if you’re inside a bit more, which can affect your blood sugars and you may find they are above your target range.
Being active has so many benefits, but it can be particularly helpful in the winter months. Exercise can keep you warm, boost your mood, and help with blood flow around the body – not to mention help you manage your blood sugars.
Try to get out in the natural sunlight – a lunchtime walk can help, or if you're spending more time inside there are lots of ways to keep moving. Try climbing the stairs a few times, dancing in the ad breaks while you’re watching TV, or vacuuming the house.
Get moving today with our simple exercise videos.
“Movement is just as important as wrapping up! Going out for a brisk walk is good, but it's just as good to do some sort of exercise in your home. Even just getting up and walking around even a little bit every hour will make you feel warmer than sitting still for hours on end, as well as being better for your health in general.”
- A tip from one of our online forum members.