Flu and Sick Days

Diabetes, Flu, and Sick Days

Like everyone, people with diabetes get the flu and get sick sometimes, even when you try your best to prevent it. So being prepared and knowing what to do when you get sick is important. There are several things you can do now to prepare for sick days. But also talk to your doctor and health care team about the best way to handle sick days when they occur.

Sick man blowing his nose

Influenza (Flu)

The single best way to protect yourself against the flu is to get the flu shot every year. People with diabetes—even pregnant women—should get a flu shot. Make sure you get the flu shot injection, not the nasal spray type of vaccine. The vaccine is safe and effective. It has been given safely to hundreds of millions of people. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot.

Visit Flu and People with Diabetes for more information.

One possible complication of flu can be pneumonia. Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine is recommended for people with diabetes, and should be part of your diabetes management plan. Talk to your health care provider for more information on getting both vaccines.

Flu Symptoms

Ask your doctor how to reach him or her quickly by telephone if you think you have the flu.

  • Flu symptoms can include the following:
    • Fever*
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Body aches
    • Chills
    • Vomiting and diarrhea
    • Cough
    • Sore throat
    • Headache
    • Fatigue

*It is also possible to have the flu and some of the symptoms listed above, without having a fever.

If you get the flu Diabetes can make it more difficult for you to handle an infection like the flu. You could become very sick and may even have to go to a hospital.

If you get sick, prescription flu medicine can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. The medicine can help keep you from getting serious health problems that can happen after getting the flu. Flu medicine works best when started within 2 days of getting sick, so call your doctor as soon as you begin getting flu symptoms.

So, if you get sick or the flu, follow the sick day guidelines listed below. Call your doctor/go to the emergency room if your sickness is severe or does not improve. (See section: Call your doctor or go to an emergency room if any of the following occurs.)

Prepare now before getting sick

To prepare for sick days, keep medicines and easy-to-fix foods in your home because
you may not feel like shopping after you get sick and you don’t want to spread germs.

  • Medicine to store in case of any sickness
    • Milk of magnesia
    • Medicine to control diarrhea
    • Antacids
    • A pain reliever
    • A thermometer
    • Suppositories for vomiting
  • Foods to keep on hand
    • Sports drinks
    • Small juice containers
    • Canned soup
    • Regular gelatin
    • Regular soft drinks
    • Instant cooked cereals
    • Crackers
    • Instant pudding
    • Unsweetened applesauce

If you can’t eat meals, you will need about 50 grams of carbohydrates every 4 hours. (Examples – 1½ cup unsweetened apple sauce or 1½ cup of fruit juice.)

When you get sick

If you get sick and have diabetes, your blood sugar can be hard to manage. You may not be able to eat properly, which can affect blood sugar levels. Your doctor may ask you to test your blood sugar more often because you are sick.

Keep good written records of your blood sugar, medicines, temperature, and weight. You may need to test your urine for ketones if your blood sugar goes very high.

Sick day guidelines for people with diabetes

If you get sick and have diabetes, follow these additional steps even if your blood sugar is within your target level:

  • Continue taking your diabetes pills or insulin as usual.
  • Test your blood glucose every four hours, and keep track of the results.
  • Drink extra (calorie-free) liquids*, and try to eat as you normally would.
  • Weigh yourself every day. Losing weight without trying is a sign of high blood glucose.
  • Check your temperature every morning and evening. A fever may be a sign of infection.

*Drink plenty of fluids – 4 to 6 ounces every half hour – to prevent dehydration. You may also need to drink
beverages with sugar if you cannot get 50 grams of carbohydrates with other food choices. Manage portions
of these sweet beverages to keep your blood sugar from getting too high.

doctor checking her patient

Call your doctor or go to an emergency room if any of the following occurs:

  • You have moderate to high ketone levels in your urine.
  • You can’t keep any liquids down for more than 4 hours.
  • You lose 5 pounds or more during the illness.
  • Your blood glucose is lower than 60 mg/dl or remains over 250
    mg/dl on 2 checks.
  • You feel too sick to eat normally and are unable to keep down food
    for more than 24 hours.
  • You have vomiting and/or severe diarrhea for more than 6 hours.
  • Your temperature is over 101 degrees F for 24 hours.
  • You’re having trouble breathing.
  • You feel sleepy or can’t think clearly. If you can’t think clearly or feel too sleepy, have someone
    else call your doctor or take you to the emergency room.
Page last reviewed: February 28, 2019