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
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