Diabetes and Sick Days

I flew to Colorado last week for my spring break. It was a great trip, but not without its complications. In fact, Colorado was the reason I had no blog entry last week — the state was slammed with a blizzard that dropped 20–24 inches of snow, and both power (for a day) and Internet (for a bit longer than that) to my mother’s home went out! My flight back to Philly was one of the first planes allowed to fly out after they completely closed the airport for the entirety of the day prior!

But as eventful as all of that was, the flight TO Colorado (and the hours before and after the flight) was much worse. I got food poisoning the night before I was supposed to fly out, and then flew, still sick with food poisoning, to Colorado. After landing and finally getting to my mom’s house, I rested for the next 18 hours until the illness finally passed and I could consume something resembling solid food again. It wasn’t fun!


An experience like this can be tough for those of us with diabetes. For most people, something like food poisoning is a passing awful experience but nothing more (unless, of course, it’s something very serious like Salmonella or another similar pathogen). For anyone with diabetes, food poisoning, the flu, or any other sickness that makes it hard to consume or HOLD DOWN food can be doubly difficult. So what do we need to do to make it through this kind of illness? Here are some (hopefully) helpful tips.

Blood sugar doesn’t have to be perfect — so lower your ratio
This is one that I learned the hard way a while back. I was feeling nauseous, but still took insulin at the regular rate and discovered that I had taken too much — since, of course, nothing was staying down. The next three hours weren’t fun. I had to constantly sip from a can of ginger ale, keeping as much of it down as I could, battling sagging blood sugar the whole time. I learned my lesson, and now I take a more sensible approach. If I’m feeling like food might not stay down, I lower my ratio, and I aim for a range a bit higher than normal. I don’t aim for the 300s, but I also don’t aim for 80–120. I might settle on 150–200. Of course that’s not the ideal range for daily management, but letting your blood sugar be a little higher than usual for 24 or 48 hours while you recover is really OK, and it avoids the potentially dangerous situation of needing sugar but being unable to keep it down.

Test, then test, then test, then test again…
We should always be testing frequently, but when we’re sick, it’s even more important to stay on top of things. In particular, the body is battling an illness, meaning the hormonal system is in full swing and the immune system is firing on all cylinders. A side effect of all this can be unexpected swings in blood sugar, as insulin is a hormone and it’s affected by this change in physiology. And if we have raised our ratio a bit to avoid those dangerous lows, we should be testing to make sure we’re not entering into numbers high enough that ketones are a concern. Again, if blood sugar is rising, treat it conservatively — plunging yourself low with a lot of insulin is a horrible idea, and just keeps the body “yo-yoing” while you pray you can keep down the sugar.

Rest and monitor your condition!
Everyone needs to rest when they’re sick, but we Diabetians need it even more so! When the body is going through something like this, it needs our support. And resting doesn’t just mean lying in bed but still cramming for work, or making a thousand phone calls, or otherwise engaging in stressful activity. No, rest has to mean actual rest. Avoid stress (which, again, involves a physiological process in the body that can interfere with how our insulin is functioning, so we Diabetians have to be very mindful about stress when we’re sick), and let your WHOLE SYSTEM rest — body AND mind!

And as you rest, monitor yourself. If you’re not getting better after a few days, see a doctor. This is true for anyone, but even more important for us. We don’t want to mess around with any kind of condition that could escalate and land us in more serious trouble, because that’s going to throw our diabetes management off big time. So staying one step ahead is a must!

Gatorade to the rescue!!
Ginger ale is a classic sick food, but it’s one that’s very high in sugar. That can be a problem for us, but if food isn’t staying down, we do want SOME level of carbohydrate to avoid lows and provide our body with some kind of energy. Gatorade or other sports drinks are actually a great idea here. On average, ginger ale will have about 30–35 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce serving. That’s great if you’re low, but if you’re trying to get enough carbs to avoid hypoglycemia and give your system a little energy, but not so much you go soaring, sipping 12 ounces of Gatorade will give you about 14–20 grams of sugar. Spread out, that’s a great ratio to help sustain blood sugar and provide energy without causing a surge the way soda or juice could. You can take a small amount of insulin to avoid going low, while also avoiding the inrush of sugar that could send you dangerously high!

Is Type 2 diabetes reversible? Yes, and for the long term, according to new research. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more about it.