Diabetes and COVID 19: Your 5-step plan to stay safe
Now’s the time to double down on good blood sugar control. But that’s not your only safety measure to protect yourself from COVID-19.
Living with diabetes can be difficult under normal circumstances. The coronavirus has made it even more challenging because it’s especially dangerous for diabetic patients.
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 an endocrinologist and a past 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. COVID-19 vaccines and the new bivalent booster can help prevent a bad case. And with extra precautions, you can reduce your chances of getting infected with the virus.
“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.
This five-step plan can help you stay on top of your diabetes right now. Work with your doctor to tailor it to your needs.
Step #1: Keep your blood sugar levels on target
The best thing you can do for yourself is to 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
It’s wise to make sure 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)
- Prescription refills
- Ketone test strips
- Backup supplies for your pump or continuous glucose monitor
- Glucose tablets or gels
- Glucagon kit
- Any other supplies recommended by your doctor
Step #3: Make time to move your body and eat healthy meals
Continuing to steer clear of crowded places like gyms may help limit the spread of COVID-19. But it also makes it harder for diabetic patients to practice the self-care measures that are so important in managing blood sugar levels.
Still not ready to go to the gym? Try a new online fitness class. Check with your health plan about programs may be included with your plan. Or head outside for a walk or bike ride.
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 if 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 worrying about COVID-19 can certainly be stressful.
Now is the time to check in with yourself. Feeling anxious, sad, and frustrated are all perfectly normal responses to tough times. Give yourself permission to have those feelings. But then take the next step. Think about the problem-solving strategies that have worked for you in the past.
Some suggestions from the ADA:
- Unplug from nonstop news updates. It 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. But we can help,” says Dr. Soleimanpour.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines is one of the best ways to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This includes getting booster shots such as the new bivalent booster when applicable. It’s also important to wear a mask indoors in public when the infection level is high in your area. According to the CDC’s latest guidance, respirator masks (like an N95 mask) provide the most protection. If you are at high risk of getting sick, keep your distance from others and avoid crowded places. 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 CDC, WHO, their local public health department, and our COVID-19 member site.
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