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What to do if you are ill


Unfortunately, being a diabetic does not stop you from getting other things!


It is therefore important to know what to do if you are ill or have an infection


When you are ill, your diabetes can go out of control. The body's defence

mechanism puts more glucose into the bloodstream when fighting illness

or infection. This prevents the insulin from working properly. In a normal

person's body more insulin would be produced to compensate. So, as a

result of your illness or infection your blood sugar levels are likely to rise.


In some cases if your diabetes goes completely out of control you may

need hospital treatment to stabilise your levels.  


Managing your diet and insulin when ill, therefore becomes even more

important and unfortunately, it comes right at a time when you really don't

feel like the extra effort. To safeguard your health you must make every

effort to try and don't be afraid to seek help if you are struggling alone.  


In Type 1 Diabetes hospital treatment is usually required in cases of Ketoacidosis or Diabetic coma. If you test yourself for ketones and they are present always seek medical advice immediately.  


In Type 2 Diabetes, ketoacidosis is rare, yet severe dehydration and very high blood sugar levels can also mean hospital treatment is necessary.  


If you have Type 1 Diabetes it is important to check for Ketones in your urine, if your sugar level rises above 15 mmol/l. Ketones are especially likely if you are vomiting. They are poisons in the blood and you must seek immediate medical attention should you detect their presence on testing yourself. There is more about ketoacidosis on this website.


Be prepared


Take some precautions against becoming ill in order that you are well prepared. Ensure you have a good supply of blood or urine testing strips, which are available on prescription, at all times, so that you can monitor your levels closely when unwell. If you have Type 1 diabetes make sure that you also have a supply of ketone testing strips, which are also available on prescription.  


When you are ill, ensure you have the telephone numbers of your GP and diabetes specialist nurse handy, so that either you, or someone helping to look after you can phone them in an emergency.  


Keep some sugary drinks handy if you are struggling to eat, as you will need to maintain your carbohydrates even if you have lost your appetite.  


It can be difficult, so if possible, make sure someone is there to assist you or at least tell someone else that you are unwell, so that they know to keep in contact.  


If you catch a cold, flu or any other illness, or infection you should take plenty of rest, drink plenty of sugar-free fluids (a quick guide is to drink roughly three litres per day, which is five pints) and contact your GP to see if antibiotics are necessary. If you are vomiting contact your GP or diabetes clinic immediately, as they may need to give you an injection to stop the vomiting or suggest another alternative solution.  


Never stop taking your medication   


You must keep taking your insulin or tablets even if you are not eating, as your blood sugar levels will be rising and will need to be controlled. You may need to increase your dosage and you should take more tests of your blood glucose levels than normal to ensure you remain in control, or at least to have an early indication that you need assistance. Make sure you record the test results, as they will be helpful to any medical professional who helps you should the need arise.


Liquid Foods


If you cannot eat and need to substitute your solid foods with liquid foods the following amounts are equivalent to one slice of bread, one egg sized potato or one cup of cereal:



Food                                        Amount

Glucose tablets                        3 tablets

Sugar                                       2 teaspoons

Fruit juice (unsweetened)        1/2 glass (100ml)

Lucozade                                 1/4 glass (50ml)

Lemonade or Cola (Not diet)   1/2 glass (100ml)

Ordinary jelly (made up)          4 tablespoons

Yoghurt (Fruit flavoured)          1 carton diet or 1/2 carton ordinary

Ice cream                                 1 scoop or brickette

Soup (tinned)                           1 cup (150ml)



To recap - if your blood sugar levels are uncontrollable or you cannot keep your food down, contact your Doctor or Diabetes Specialist Nurse immediately.


Frequent testing


You may wish to continue testing yourself more frequently even when you are feeling better so as to keep a good eye on your levels. I personally test myself 6 to 8 times a day every day, as I prefer to know whether I need food or exercise, rather than blindly guessing and then trying to correct afterwards. It allows me to have greater control of my sugar levels to know what course of action is required and when. Perhaps you might decide to test yourself more regularly all the time - it certainly helps.


Extra cautions for children who are ill


Although the above advice stands, when children are ill their blood sugar levels can become low, so make sure you have lucozade, glucose tablets and Hypostop ready if you are treating or looking after a sick diabetic child.


Children can become acutely ill quicker than adults and it is therefore vitally important to seek immediate medical assistance should you be having problems containing their illness or controlling their levels.


Remember also that children under 12 years of age should not be given aspirin, or medicines containing aspirin.


Diabetes UK produce leaflets containing advice for parents of children with Diabetes - covering all aspects of care, including coping with school.

Illness and Diabetes

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Never stop taking your insulin when you are ill