4 Tips on Handling Sick Days as a Diabetic

The Gist of It:

  • Create a sick-day plan with your doctor.
  • Take regular notes on your sugar levels, condition of your short-term illness and the types of medication taken.
  • Other medication can affect you; aspirin can lower sugar levels while Ventolin can raise it.
Source: womenvotepa.org
Source: womenvotepa.org

Taking a sick leave could mean different things to people. Some relish the thought of lazing in bed with a good book and a box of tissues while others may not be too keen on checking mails from the porcelain throne. Calling in sick for a diabetic is no different but it can be better with some of the tips below.

If you’ve read our article ‘How Fever & the Common Cold Affects Diabetes’, you will know that your body releases extra blood sugar to help the body combat whatever illness is bugging you. This could be dangerous if your sugar levels are not under control so we’ve come up with some suggestions on handling days like this.

1. Failing to plan is planning to fail

Source: theage.com.au
Source: theage.com.au

You should prepare a plan for sick days in advance, especially if your job or lifestyle requires you to be constantly on the go. The plan should tell you when to call the doctor, how often to measure blood sugar and urine ketones, what medicines to take, and how to adjust your diet.

Speak to your doctor(s) and dietitian on how to tackle common ailments. Cough, flu and fever seem to be the usual suspects in our humid weather. If you’re not too keen on overloading your system with more meds then speak to your medical team about herbal remedies or organic supplements like Echinacea.

In your plan you should also include a list of phone numbers of your doctor(s), diabetes support groups, and dietitian. Make sure you also know how to reach them at night, on weekends, and during festive holidays. Make a copy of your plan for your family, co-workers, or your spouse.

2. Note to self: Note taking is helpful!

Source: mcny.edu
Source: mcny.edu

Your sick-day plan will tell you to measure your blood glucose more often than usual. At least 4 times a day should be sufficient, depending on how high your earlier readings were. You might only need to measure ketones if your blood sugar is higher than 13.3 mmol/L. If you do not have a blood glucose meter (we recommend you get one), you can buy blood-testing strips at your local pharmacies or clinics.

Be sure to jot down all your readings. Include date and time as well. This way if your illness persists, your doctor will able to tweak your medication based on your notes.

3. Medication that don’t medicate

Source: eduspiral.wordpress.com
Source: eduspiral.wordpress.com

Some people tend to rely on over-the-counter (OTC) meds for trivial ailments like common cold and mild sore throat. Some meds may contain high dosages of glucose like cough syrups and lozenges. Small doses of medicines with sugar are usually okay but to be on the safe side, ask your doctor about sugar-free medicines. Your sick-day plan should contain a list of suitable OTC meds as well.

Do remember that some medicines you take for short-term illnesses can affect your blood sugar levels, even if they do not contain sugar. For example, large dosages of aspirin can lower blood glucose levels [1]. Some antibiotics also have that similar effect and can be harsh on the tummy. Decongestants and similar drugs like Ventolin can raise blood glucose levels [2] so it really is very important that you know what you’re taking and how it affects you.

4. Porridge and sick-people food

Source: prevention.com
Source: prevention.com

Food can be a big problem when you’re sick but it’s extremely important to stick to your routine meal plan if you can. It’s easy to unknowingly lose a lot of fluids when you are vomiting, burning up from a fever or even diarrhoea. Drink lots of water to keep from getting dehydrated. Avoid fruit juices and isotonic beverages if possible as these contain lots of sugar.

If you need to frequently consume hot drinks to ease your throat or cold then take it without sugar or condensed milk. Extra fluids will also help you get rid of the extra glucose and possible ketones in your system.

Let’s say you’re having trouble sticking to your regular diet… Your sick-day plan should have a backup meal plan. Try to take in your normal number of calories by eating easy-on-the-stomach foods like regular (non-diet) gelatine, porridge, soups, and soupy noodles. It helps to have some instant soup on hand for emergencies (we know it’s not very healthy so consume in moderation).


Source: icanhascheezburger.com
Source: icanhascheezburger.com

You will still need to continue taking your diabetes medication along with your other meds for your ailment. Even if you are throwing up or your throat is too sore to swallow; don’t stop your medication. You need to keep your sugar levels in check!

If you are on pills instead of insulin shots, then you may want to consider small dosages of insulin if you are not able to consume your pills. Be sure to discuss this scenario with your doc when creating a sick-day plan.

If you must go to the hospital or see a different doctor, be sure to state that you have diabetes or have your identification bracelet/pendant in plain view. List all the medication that you are taking and provide the contact details of your regular doctor or diabetes support group.

Source: diabeteswa.com.au
Source: diabeteswa.com.au

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
NHS Choices UK

Share a Thought

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.