Flu and Diabetes - Symptoms, Medication and Vaccine

Although influenza is common, diabetes makes fighting off the flu harder
Although influenza is common, diabetes makes fighting off the flu harder

People with diabetes are generally at a greater risk if they catch flu (influenza) as it can pose significant difficulties with diabetes management.

For diabetics, it’s important to avoid catching flu.

However, diabetes and flu are a bad combination because diabetes makes it harder to fight off the flu virus.

Flu and other viral infections can increase the stress on the body, which for people with diabetes can lead to higher blood sugar levels and increase complications risk, particularly short term complications such as ketoacidosis and Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State (HHS).

Diabetes and flu symptoms

Symptoms of flu may occur rapidly and include:

  • Severe aching and pain in joints
  • Aching muscles
  • Aching around the eyes
  • Fever
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat and discharge from the nose

Diabetes and flu medication

Some over-the-counter flu medication is suitable for people with diabetes.

However, it is important for people with diabetes to check the label on the mediation and to avoid those products that have a high level of sugar.

Many off the shelf liquid cold and flu drugs in the UK include sugar, and some (such as cough drops) may be high in sugar.

Remember, flu medication only treats the symptoms whilst the body recovers.

High-sugar flu medication could affect blood glucose management.

How will flu affect my blood sugar?

If (in most cases, when) you get flu, it is important to check blood glucose levels more regularly than usual. Whilst you have flu, check as often as possible, because the feelings of illness can mask changes in your blood sugar.

For this reason, you could develop hypoglycaemia or hyperglycaemia without realising, which could be extremely dangerous.

Frequency of blood glucose testing depends on your particular circumstances and experience, but some experts recommend testing every three or four hours and reporting any changes to your doctor at once.

Diabetes, ketones and flu

If you take insulin, charity Diabetes UK recommend checking for ketones if blood glucose levels rise above 15 mmol/L. If your ketones become too high it is possible to fall into a diabetic coma and this can be fatal if untreated.

Ketones should be checked regularly, and your diabetes healthcare professional should be able to inform you about ketone testing.

What can I eat if I have diabetes and flu?

Many people with diabetes don’t feel hungry or thirsty if they have flu. However, it is important to continue eating a healthy diet and drinking regular fluid to help manage your blood sugar and diabetes. Ideally, don’t vary your regular meal plan too much. 

If you cannot eat, it is advisable to consume drinks with carbohydrate in to provide your body with energy. Keep monitoring your blood glucose levels closely and ask your health team if you need advice in managing your blood glucose levels.

I am a UK diabetic; can I get a free flu vaccination?

People with diabetes are considered an ‘at-risk’ group when it comes to seasonal flu. Scares over H1N1 mean that vaccinations are available all over the country.

Seasonal flu is a serious illness, and because people with diabetes are considered at-risk, vaccinations are free in the UK.

What the community have to say about flu

  • Dippy3103: I am sore and itchy at the injection site, but it beats the hell out of getting flu. My employer now offers it to all staff, and if I didn't get it on the NHS I would have it through my employer. I guess they feel if they stop a few cases of flu then they save on sick pay and reduced efficiency. The mild discomfort in my arm is worth it to reduce my risk of flu.
  • Anniep: I had mine yesterday and no problem at all. Previous years I have had a sore arm for a day or so this year I can't even tell where it was done. For those of us at more risk it is always worth getting it.
  • Celtic.piskie: The normal 'flu vaccine is always combined with varying strains. The swine flu vaccine is absolutely no different to a normal flu vaccine. The only reason it was delivered separately last year was because it was an emergency situation.
  • Cugila: There are many of us who have done our own research into the Flu jab and its constituent parts. I for one will be having it this year and the next etc. I have never had a problem with it and know plenty of people who also have never had a problem. As far as I am concerned it protects me from what could be a nasty bout of Flu - sounds good to me.
  • Lezzles: I had the flu last xmas and it was awful but I'd rather go without the jab and let the elderly and those less able to fight it have it instead of me I'm young enough and healthy enough to cope
Your Comments
i also am type 2 diabetic was diagnosed about 5 years ago i have had flu jab every year and eevery year i end up in bed for a fortnight so ill i feel like im dying i spoke to my pharmist about this and he said it sounded like i was allergic to the liquid that holds the actual flujab which is made of eggs so this year im risking not having the jab.
Posted by beachy, england on Thursday, October 11, 2012
What can you say to someone who is at this moment in bed with the dreaded flu and have been for 4 bloody days... and has had the flu jab just 2 weeks ago
Posted by jeenie, Lancashire on Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I always have the flu jab, here in France I am supposed to get the stuff and take it to the nurse however I have always done it myself. The doctor laughs as I am expected to do my insulin but go to a nurse with the flu jab. But seriously it's better to have the jab than the flu. Whilst helping with the flu it may as it raises antibodies reduce cold sysmptoms as well. Works for me, and it's free.
Posted by rinfrance, France on Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Having flu xmas 1976 left me completely out if it, my Dr even returned twice Christmas Day without being asked. Had flu jab ever since. Now 68 yrs old I wouldn't dream of not having the flu jab. Still get a swelling and ache on arm for about a week but can cope with that.
Posted by kanda, milton keynes on Thursday, November 03, 2011
I am 82 and type 2 from Jan 2008. Now on diet and exercise. Some years ago I actually collapsed with 'flu, so now know how dreadful it can be. I had my annual jab a few days ago and can honestly say that, like most people, I have never had any ill effects whatever from these jabs My advice to anyone who has not had the jab is very positive - GO FOR IT! The alternative can be VERY unpleasant - even dangerous !
Posted by al3fred, Harrow on Thursday, October 06, 2011
As a Type 2 diabetic for the past 6 years I've had a flu jab every year. But after recently buying and reading Dr Vernon Coleman's snappily-titled recently-published book 'Anyone Who Tells You Vaccines Are Safe And Effective Is Lying. Here's The Proof.' I shall not be having a jab this year. I share his outrage that GPs ae paid extra fees to vaccinate their patients. Aren't these people already paid very handsomely from the taxes of the people they're supposed to give independent medical advice to? It's a downright scandal.
Posted by Mike Buchanan, Bedford on Thursday, October 06, 2011
I have had the flu jab ever since my T2 diagnosis almost 4 years ago, but upon recently visiting Canada and relatives in August I fell prey to a really nasty cold virus, still have the after effects over 5 weeks later, it felt more like flu than a cold. I imagine that the jab cannot cover all types of flu.
Posted by Kathleen Miller, Kent on Thursday, October 06, 2011
I had flu recently which lasted a good week. My fasting blood sugar went up to 8 whereas it is never above 6. It took 12 days to come back to normal. I am type 2 and control with diet and exercise.
Posted by Ricky, Southport, UK on Tuesday, April 05, 2011
I have had type 1 diabetes for over 13 years and this is the first time in my life that I have ever had flu, not once in 23 years! I have always refused the flu jab after hearing a couple of horror stories about patients that have ended up seriously ill after the jab. But now that I have flu and it's day five and my symptoms are still really bad. My temp is still around 38.0 (paracetamol is bringing it down), I've got the worst cough I have ever had, I ache all over, my sinuses are really painful and I am having to fight to keep my blood sugars under 10.0 (thankfully that is something I do seem to be winning a lot of the time). I can honestly say I made a huge mistake not getting the jab. If you think flu is just a more severe cold, trust me it's not. I will be getting the jab next years and recommend the same to anyone else who is not sure about getting it. Don't make the same mistake I did!
Posted by Kay, Hertfordshire on Thursday, January 13, 2011
Getting a cold after a flu jab is nothing to do with the jab itself as the virus is inactive. Also, saying "I never get the flu so I don't need the jab" or "I'd rather someone potentially worse off had the jab before me". You may not be affected by some strain of flu but having the jab might prevent you carrying and passing on some type of flu to someone weaker or more at risk. Being type one, a healthcare professional and someone who has had a REALLY bad flu a couple of years ago, I'll take the jab.
Posted by Mark, Australia on Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I have had diabetes type 2 for almost 5 years and was horrified when my sugar levels rose to 13.2 as they are never above 5.5. This happened 1 hour after the injection. My diabetes is well under control with diet only so I'm intruiged as to why the flu jab did this to me.
Posted by Jean dennis , medway on Friday, November 05, 2010
I am due next week 20-10-2010 to have my jab. I'm 72 years old and since being a pensioner have always had the flu jab. I would never miss it, I have noticed in the some earlier messages they say they are having pain or swelling with them. Possibly they may not be aware that this year's injection is combined with the swine flu also. Nothing any more dangerous just a further warding off of any problems in the future. So put up with the different sensations, they are all part of the medical care being taken for you all.
Posted by david holman, Wythenshawe, Manchester on Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I had my flu jab in one arm and my pneumonia jab in the other last Tuesday. This was my first round of flu jabs since being diagnosed type 2 in May. Both arms are a bit sore, that passed. I had really awful headaches on and off from Thursday 'til Saturday - fine now. I believe there is plenty of vaccines to go round amongst those that need it. According to the NHS - we need it! Real flu is not just a heavy cold. If there's a way to avoid it, it seems sensible to take it!
Posted by Popsey, Lancashire, England on Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I am a diabetic and always have the flu jab. Last year I also had the swine flu jab with no after effects. Be wise and get the jab, it makes sense. Ever since I have been having the flu jab I have never had the flu.
Posted by lenjohn, St Austell, Cornwall on Friday, October 08, 2010
Under no circumstances would I have the flu jab. If you maintain a strong immune system there should be no need. I use certain herbal/homeopathic remedies and have been free from flu for years now. These jabs just line the pockets of the drugs industry. No real value to someone who is reasonably healthy! However, it's personal choice at the end of the day isn't it?
Posted by sukaren, Wiltshire on Thursday, October 07, 2010
I'm 63, been type 2 since 2005, still controlling it with diet and exercise. I've only ever had flu once in my life, but now every year I have my flu jab. I would rather have that than the flu. I had my jab last Friday and have only just got rid of the ache in my arm today so something is different!
Posted by GrannyB, Farnborough, Hampshire on Thursday, October 07, 2010
I been having the flu jab for the last 3 years now and not had any trouble with it; no swelling or redness. I went on Tuesday and had it done again, this time it's swollen red and itching. But take it from me its well worth it.
Posted by T.Bag, Market Harborough, Leicestershire on Thursday, October 07, 2010
I have been diabetic for nearly 30 years now (on insulin) and in recent times I have always been offered free flu jabs, but have not always accepted them. I always end up with a cold at least, with or without a jab! My Uncle, who was also diabetic, hated it! Last year, I had the flu, despite a flu jab, which lasted for months!
Posted by Alan Levy, Hull, UK on Thursday, October 07, 2010
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