How Fever & the Common Cold Affects Diabetes

The Gist of It:

  • When sick; your body releases extra glucose to help combat the illness.
  • If diabetes is not controlled, you could get Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic Non-ketotic Syndrome (HHNS) which could lead to coma and seizures.
  • Don’t panic and read our list of scenarios of when to call your doctor.

Having the sniffles or fever can be very difficult on its own and you could get sick quite often in a year, especially with our seasonal rains and hazy days. Having diabetes as well as being sick can make it worse. Being sick can make your blood sugar level go up quite high. Here are a few things you need to know before jumping for joy at the thought of taking a sick leave from work.

The best way to prevent a minor illness from becoming a major problem is to work out a plan of action for sick days ahead of time. Then when you become sick, you will feel safe and secure. You will already know what to do and you will have the supplies on hand to do it.

I’m sick, so what?


Besides feeling like you’ve swallowed a cactus and the rate of 3 achoos-per-minute; when you’re sick your whole body is under stress. To deal with this, your body releases extra glucose into your blood stream to fight whatever is causing that stress. For people without diabetes, this is an effective method as their pancreas will release extra insulin to cope with the extra blood glucose.

However for people with diabetes, the release of glucose creates unnecessary difficulty in managing the rise in blood sugar levels and messes with the effects of insulin.

It is easier to lose control of your diabetes because of this and may potentially put you in a coma! People with Type 2 diabetes can develop a condition called Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic Non-ketotic Syndrome (HHNS). This Star Trek sounding condition is basically severe dehydration that may lead to seizures, coma and eventually death. This condition is pretty common among older patients [1].

When your blood sugar level rises due to an illness; your body tries to get rid of the excess sugar by passing it into your urine. This makes you run to the bathroom more often but what happens when you can’t go as often? Your urine becomes very dark. You may feel extremely thirsty too and you should to drink lots of liquids to prevent an onset of severe dehydration.

Do I call my doctor after 3 sneezes?


We may have mentioned coma and potential fatality above but don’t sound the alarms just yet! You do not need to call the doc every time you play the trumpet tissue. Our friends at the Persatuan Diabetes Malaysia have put together a list of scenarios of when to hit that speed-dial:

  • You’ve been sick or have had a fever for a few days (min. 3 days) and aren’t getting better.
  • You’ve been vomiting or having diarrhoea for more than 6 hours.
  • You have moderate to large amounts of ketones in your urine (check with ketone tests).
  • Your glucose levels are higher than 13.3 mmol/L even though you’ve taken the extra insulin your sick-day plan calls for.
  • You take pills for your diabetes and your blood glucose level climbs to more than 13.3 mmol/L before meals and stays there for more than 24 hours.
  • You have symptoms that might signal ketoacidosis or dehydration or some other serious condition (for example, your chest hurts, you are having trouble breathing, your breath smells fruity, or your lips or tongue are dry and cracked).
  • You aren’t certain what to do to take care of yourself. Be ready to tell the doctor what medicines you’ve taken and how much, how long you’ve been sick, whether you can eat and keep food down, whether you’ve lost weight, and what your temperature, blood glucose level, and urine ketone level are.

Your blood sugar levels may take a few days to stabilise, even after you have fully recovered so keep testing more often than usual until the blood sugar settles down. Always remember to stay hydrated and take your medication on time!


HealthWorks is currently running a series on diabetes, click here to read more on this silent killer.


As a diabetic, how are you taking care of yourself nutritionally? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!


Persatuan Diabetes Malaysia
Global Diabetes Community
American Diabetes Association

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