Your 5-step plan to stay safe with diabetes

Last updated: Apr 22, 2021
Now’s the time to double down on good blood sugar control. But that’s not your only safety measure.

Living with diabetes can be difficult under normal circumstances. The new coronavirus makes it even more challenging because it’s proving to be especially dangerous for those with diabetes.

While only about 10% of Americans have diabetes, about one-third of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have the condition, says Robert Eckel, MD. He’s the president of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

“We know that people with diabetes are more likely to be hospitalized once they become infected. And the outcomes look less favorable,” says Dr. Eckel. He says that the infection causes blood sugar to rise. Those higher levels can lead to dangerous inflammation in the body.

“How much of this is because of diabetes alone, or because of additional conditions, like high blood pressure or heart disease, is less than clear,” says Dr. Eckel. “But we do know that the immune response in patients with diabetes is impaired.”

The outlook isn’t all gloomy. Now that the new coronavirus vaccines are reaching the public, many people feel a renewed sense of hope. And with the right extra precautions, People can further reduce your chances of contracting COVID-19.

“As someone who’s had diabetes for 35 years, I practice what I preach. Control what you can control,” says endocrinologist Scott A. Soleimanpour, MD. He’s an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan School of Medicine.

With that in mind, get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as you’re able. And use this five-step plan to stay on top of your diabetes right now.

Step #1: Keep your blood sugar levels on target

The best thing you can do for yourself is make sure your blood sugar stays in the target range outlined by your doctor.

“I’m most concerned about individuals with uncontrolled blood sugar developing COVID-19. They’ll have a harder time fighting off the infection,” says Dr. Soleimanpour. “Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your doctor if you need help tightening your levels.”

Keep up with your current treatment plan, including taking your medications as prescribed. And ask your doctor if you should check your blood sugar or ketones more than usual.

Step #2: Stock up on your diabetes supplies

While there have been no reports of shortages or supply chain issues, it’s still wise to make sure that your prescriptions are up to date. Keep a minimum of two weeks' worth of your medications, testing supplies, and other necessities stocked as well.

Things you’ll need:

  • Glucose meter (with extra batteries and test strips)
  • Insulin
  • Prescription refills
  • Ketone test strips
  • Backup supplies for your pump or continuous glucose monitor
  • Glucose tablets or gels
  • Glucagon kit

Step #3: Make time to move your body and eat healthy meals

Staying home and limiting contact with others helps limit the spread of the coronavirus. But it also makes it hard to practice the self-care measures that are so important in managing blood sugar levels.

Still not ready to hit the gym? Try a new online fitness class. Check your Evidence of Coverage to see what programs may be included with your plan.

When you’re making your grocery list, be sure to include pantry staples along with a variety of frozen fruits, vegetables, and meats. This will allow you to eat balanced meals for two or more weeks should you have to isolate.

And don’t forget to stay stocked on foods that are part of your sick-day plan. Include things like 100% fruit juice to deal with low blood sugar and low-sodium soup to keep you nourished and hydrated.

Step #4: Make a COVID-19 sick plan

Speaking of your sick-day plan, make sure you know the details and are ready to follow them. If you don’t remember what to do, reach out to your provider for a refresher.

“Generally, when people with diabetes get a virus of any kind, the diabetes becomes more challenging to control,” Dr. Soleimanpour says. “You’ll often notice your blood sugars are starting to run higher. So it’s important to be ready to do something about it.”

In the case of COVID-19, that might include temporarily bumping up your usual doses during your infection — with doctor supervision. “This is really where these connections with your diabetes specialist are important,” says Dr. Soleimanpour. “We can look at your [blood sugar] numbers and decide how much extra insulin or medication you need while you’re going through this.”

Step #5: Map out problem-solving strategies

It’s well-known that stress can lead to blood sugar spikes, says Dr. Eckel. And living through a pandemic is certainly stressful!

Now is the time to check in with yourself. Feeling anxious, sad, frustrated, and stuck are all perfectly normal responses to our current situation. Give yourself permission to have those feelings. But then take the next step, which is to think about the effective problem-solving strategies that have worked for you in the past.

Some suggestions from the ADA:

  • Unplug from nonstop coronavirus updates. Too much news and information can have a negative effect on your emotions.
  • Create a new routine to help you regain a sense of power over your surroundings. This includes setting regular eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Make a point of getting exercise every day.

If you’re having trouble getting a grip on these emotions, reach out to your provider.

“Sometimes diabetes is overwhelming, and it can be a really emotional condition,” says Dr. Soleimanpour. “But social distancing doesn’t mean disconnection with everybody. We can help.”

 

The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It’s also important to continue practicing social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet away from people outside your household) and washing your hands frequently. You should also be appropriately masked any time you’ll be in public. According to the CDC’s latest guidance, this means layering a disposable mask underneath a snug-fitting cloth mask or placing a mask fitter over your cloth mask to ensure a tight fit. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDCWHO, their local public health department and our COVID-19 member site.

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