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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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What to Know if You Have Diabetes and the Flu

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If you have diabetes, it's important to avoid getting the flu, or influenza. Everyone has a chance of catching this viral infection, but people with diabetes have a harder time fighting it off. The flu can put added stress in your body, which can affect your blood sugar levels and raise the chance of serious health complications.

What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?

They usually come on quickly and may include:

For in-depth information, see Flu Symptoms: What You Might Feel.

Which Medications Are Safe?

You can take some over-the-counter medications to ease your symptoms. But make sure you read the label. Avoid products with high amounts of sugar. This often includes liquid cold and flu drugs, cough drops, and liquid cough medicines. Look for sugar-free products.

For in-depth information, see Flu Treatment: The Basics.

How Often Should I Check my Blood Sugar if I Have the Flu?

If you get the flu, check often while you’re sick. Because you're ill and feel awful anyway, you may not be aware of changes in your blood sugar levels.

Take a reading at least every 3 to 4 hours. Report any major changes to your doctor right away. You may need to adjust your insulin.

Check for ketones, too. If they get too high, you might have diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can cause a coma or even death. Call your doctor.

What Can I Eat?

You may feel really crummy and not hungry or thirsty at all. Still, you have to eat to keep your blood sugar levels steady.

Stick with foods from your regular meal plan. Eat about 15 grams of carbs every hour or so, like a slice of toast, 3/4 cup of frozen yogurt, or 1 cup of soup.

How Do I Stay Hydrated?

Some people who have diabetes get nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with the flu. To make sure you get enough fluids, sip liquids throughout the day. Aim for one cup every hour. Choose sugar-free drinks -- tea, water, sugar-free ginger ale -- if your blood sugar is running high.

If your blood sugar is low, try something that has about 15 grams of carbs: 1/4 cup of grape juice or 1 cup of a sports drink, for example.

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