Type 2 diabetes and coronavirus: How to manage your condition when you are ill

Type 2 diabetes is a hot topic regardless of what is happening in the world because it is so widespread. The chronic condition, whereby your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, is strongly tied to unhealthy lifestyle decisions, which may partly explain its prevalence. The subject has gained even more attention recently amid the coronavirus outbreak sweeping across the globe.


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What is the link? Case studies of patients with coronavirus have found that the virus is more deadly in people with underlying health conditions, including diabetes.

This will sound alarm bells for millions of people across the UK that live with the chronic condition.

Fortunately, there are a number of measures if you start to feel ill to help manage your diabetes.

First and foremost it is imperative to stay hydrated if you are unwell.

Diabetes UK explains: “Having a temperature or being sick can lead to dehydration.

“In some cases, severe dehydration and very high blood sugar levels can mean that you need to go into hospital.”

The charity advises sticking to unsweetened drinks, such as water.

It also recommends the following five steps:

  • Don’t panic – contact your diabetes team who will help you if you have any queries or if you are unsure about what to do.
  • Keep taking your diabetes medications – even if you don’t feel like eating. But there are some medicines that you shouldn’t take as much of or stop taking altogether. Make sure you talk to your diabetes team as soon as you’re feeling ill so they can give you the right advice.
  • If you check your blood sugar at home you’ll probably need to do it more often – at least every four hours, including during the night. If you don’t test your blood sugar levels at home, be aware of the signs of a hyper (hypergylcaemia).
  • If you have type 1 diabetes, check your ketones if your blood sugar level is high (generally 15mmol/l or more, or 13mmol/l if you use an insulin pump, but your team may have given you different targets). If ketones are present, contact your diabetes team.
  • Keep eating or drinking – if you can’t keep food down, try snacks or drinks with carbohydrates in to give you energy. Try to sip sugary drinks (such as fruit juice or non-diet cola or lemonade) or suck on glucose tablets or sweets like jelly beans. Letting fizzy drinks go flat may help keep them down. If you’re vomiting, or not able to keep fluids down, get medical help as soon as possible.

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How does being ill affect your diabetes?

Diabetes.co.uk explains: “During an illness or infection the body will release extra glucose into your bloodstream in a bid to help combat the illness.

“In people without diabetes, this is an effective strategy as their pancreas will release extra insulin to cope with the extra blood glucose.

“In people with diabetes, though, the release of glucose presents an unwanted extra difficulty in managing the rise in blood glucose levels – in addition to feeling less than 100 percent.”

How can I tell my cold-like symptoms are a sign of the coronavirus?

According to the NHS, the main warning signs associated with the coronavirus are a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.


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In regards to the former, this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature).

The latter is characterised by coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual).

What should I do if I recognise symptoms?

The government is urging everyone to not leave their home if they have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) or live with someone who does.

This policy, known as self-isolation, aims to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

According to the NHS, if you are self-isolating, you must:

  • Not leave your home for any reason, other than to exercise once a day – but stay at least two metres (three steps) away from other people
  • Not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home
  • Not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home

“You can use your garden, if you have one,” says the health body.

How long should I self-isolate for?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, public health officials say you’ll need to self-isolate for seven days.

After seven days:

  • If you do not have a high temperature, you do not need to self-isolate
  • If you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal

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