You might need to manage your type 1 diabetes a bit differently when you're sick

If you are ill with the flu or a serious bacterial infection, your body will make and release stress hormones. These hormones can trigger a release of stored glucose from your liver. On these days your body will need significantly more insulin.

It’s really important that your checking your blood glucose levels more when you’re sick, so you have the right amount on insulin. Too little insulin and your body will start to burn fat as an alternative energy source, producing ketones which can build up and make you even more unwell. In fact, this situation can be life-threatening.

You are less likely to produce stress hormones if you have a gastro-type bug. In this case your blood glucose levels are more likely to be low because you’re not eating or not absorbing the food that you are eating – the food is going straight through you.

There are other illnesses, such as chicken pox, that seem to have little or no effect on your blood glucose. The impact of illness is very much dependent on the illness you have, and can differ each time.

If your blood glucose levels rise, you are more at risk of producing ketones. Ketones are acids and, as the levels of ketones rise, you may feel very unwell and could lead to vomiting, abdominal pain and shortness of breath. The build up of ketones could also prevent other areas of your body from working properly, especially if the condition is left untreated, and could lead to a coma in extreme cases.

What to do when you’re unwell

You therefore need to monitor your blood glucose and ketone levels to decide if you need more insulin. It’s the absence or presence, and level, of ketones which should determine how you manage your sickness and type 1 diabetes, like how often to test, fluid intake to avoid dehydration and how much insulin is required. Your diabetes team can help you with this.

If you are unable to monitor your blood glucose and ketone levels as frequently as recommended it would be advisable that you contact your diabetes team, as hospitalisation may be required.

Free flu vaccine

For otherwise healthy individuals, flu is an unpleasant but self-limiting disease with recovery usually within two to seven days. But the risk of serious illness from flu is higher among those with underlying health conditions such as type 1 diabetes.

The Health Protection Agency found that people with diabetes are about six times more likely to die if they develop flu than individuals with no underlying health conditions. The seasonal flu vaccine offers extra protection against the virus. The Department of Health recommends that all people with type 1 make an appointment with their GP surgery as early as possible in the flu season as they can.

Book an appointment at your GP for your free flu vaccine.