Managing Diabetes in the Heat

John Redman, MD

Bayside Clinic

September 2020

 

Whether you manage your own diabetes or are helping a loved one manage their own diabetes, you may be aware that people who have diabetes – whether it’s type 1 or type 2 – feel the heat more than people who do not have diabetes.  Sound confusing?

 

Some diabetic complications include damaged blood vessels or nerves, in turn affecting sweat glands in our bodies.  Sweat glands spring into action when your temperature rises; this is the body’s natural way of keeping you cool.  If sweat glands are affected due to damaged vessels or nerves, our body may not cool as effectively.

 

Individuals with diabetes also tend to get dehydrated more quickly.  Not drinking enough fluids can raise blood sugar and high blood sugar in turn will cause you to urinate more, dehydrating your system.  Some commonly prescribed medications like diuretics (“water pills” to treat high blood pressure) can also cause dehydration.

 

Even when it doesn’t seem very hot outside, the combination of heat and humidity (moisture in the air) can be dangerous, especially to diabetics and others with chronic medical conditions.  Whether you’re working or playing outside, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other sources recommend checking the heat index –a measurement that combines temperature and humidity.

 

The summer (and sometimes the holidays) tends to throw us off our routine and regular diabetic management plans. For diabetic patients, it is important to check your blood sugar a little more often to make sure it is in target range; especially if you are spending extra time in the heat.  It is equally as important to know what low blood sugar feels like as soon as possible.

 

While muscle cramping may be one of the first signs of heat-related illness, leading to heat exhaustion or stroke, you should familiarize yourself with the differences between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. With Heat Exhaustion, you may feel or experience; heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale and clammy skin, fast and/or weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, or fainting. Recommendations are to; Move to a cooler location, lie down and loosen clothing; apply cool, wet cloths to cool your body down, and sip water. If you have vomited and vomiting continues, seek emergency medical attention.  With Heat Stroke, you may feel or experience high body temperature (above 103 degrees), Hot, red, dry or moist skin, rapid and strong pulse, and, possible unconsciousness.  With Heat Strokes, you should call 911 immediately, as this is a medical emergency. Persons having a heat stroke should be moved to a cooler environment to attempt to reduce the body temperature, but do NOT give fluids.  The person can be placed in a cold water tub, moved to a shaded location, place ice towels all over the body, and/or douse with a water hose.

 

Regardless of your medical condition, we should all plan to: Drink plenty of water; Keep medicines, supplies, and medical equipment out of the heat; Stay inside in air-conditioning when it’s hottest; Wear loose and light clothing; Make a plan in case you lose power; and Have a go-bag and medication list ready for emergencies.

 

We at Chambers Health strive to continue our tradition of being “What You Need, Where You Are”, and we look forward to serving the health and wellness needs of our communities by providing the best care possible.

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