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Diabetes and the Flu

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If you have diabetes, it's important to avoid getting the flu. Flu, or influenza, is a viral infection of the respiratory system and muscles. While everyone has a chance of catching flu, having diabetes makes it harder to fight off viruses that cause flu. Flu and other viral infections can create added stress in your body, which can affect your blood sugar levels and increase the chance of serious health complications.

What Are Symptoms of the Flu?

Flu symptoms usually come on abruptly and may include the following:

  • Fever (usually high)
  • Severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes
  • Generalized weakness
  • Ill appearance, with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat and watery discharge from the nose

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

What Medications Can I Take for Flu If I Have Diabetes?

People with diabetes can take some over-the-counter medications to ease flu symptoms. But make sure you read the medication's label. Also, avoid products that have ingredients that are high in sugar. Liquid cold and flu drugs often contain added sugar.

You should stay away from the traditional "high sugar" cough drops and liquid cough medicines. These drugs used to treat flu symptoms tend to be high in sugar. Look for words "sugar-free" when purchasing medications to treat flu symptoms.

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

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

According to the American Diabetes Association, if you get the flu, it's important to check, check, and re-check blood sugar during the illness. Because you're ill and feel awful anyway, you may not be aware of your blood sugar soaring high or spiraling low.

The ADA recommends checking blood sugar at least every three to four hours and reporting any significant changes to your doctor immediately. You may need more insulin if your blood sugar is too high, or less insulin if your blood sugar is too low.

In addition, check for ketones when you are ill. If your ketones get too high, it can be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). When DKA is severe, there is a risk of a coma or even death. If your ketone test is high, call your doctor immediately. Your diabetes doctor can explain what to do to prevent serious complications.

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