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Managing Diabetes during Sick Days

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is sick day management?

Sick day management is a plan to control your blood sugar levels while you are sick. You develop this plan with your diabetes care team.

Why do I need a sick day plan?

Your blood sugar levels can increase because of stress from illness, surgery, or injury. Your plan will help prevent high blood sugar levels and other serious health conditions such as the following:

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a condition that forces your body to use fat instead of sugar for fuel. DKA happens when your body does not have enough insulin and your blood sugar levels get very high. As fats are broken down, they leave chemicals called ketones that build up in your blood. Ketones are dangerous at high levels. DKA usually happens to people with type 1 diabetes. DKA can lead to coma, and can be life-threatening if not treated.
  • Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome (HHS) is a condition that causes your body to get rid of extra sugar through your urine. This leads to severe dehydration. HHS happens to people with type 2 diabetes, especially older people. HHS can be life-threatening.

What are some things I should do when I am sick?

  • Continue to take your medicines as directed. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to make any changes. If you normally do not use insulin, you may need to use it while you are sick. If you already use insulin, you may need to increase the amount you take. Talk to your provider before you take any over-the-counter medicines.
  • Check your blood sugar level more often than usual. You may need to check a drop of blood in a glucose test machine. If you have type 2 diabetes, check at least 4 times each day. If you have type 1 diabetes, check every 4 hours. Your care team provider may recommend a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM is a device that is worn at all times. The CGM checks your blood sugar every 5 minutes. It sends results to an electronic device such as a smart phone.
    How to check your blood sugar
    Continuous Glucose Monitoring
  • Check your urine or blood for ketones if you use insulin, and as directed. Ask your provider which type of ketone testing is best for you. Ketone urine test kits are sold in pharmacies and some stores. You can also buy a meter to check the amount of ketones in your blood. Ask when and how often to check ketones.
  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need to drink about 8 ounces (1 cup) of liquid each hour. Drink liquids that do not contain sugar or caffeine. Ask your provider which liquids are best for you. He or she may tell you that water is the best liquid to drink.
  • Follow your usual meal plan as closely as possible. If you cannot follow your meal plan, eat other foods that are easy for your body to digest. If you are eating less food than usual or cannot eat any foods, drink liquids that contain calories.
  • Tell others who help you while you are sick about your sick day plan. Put your plan in a place that is easy to find. Your sick day plan may change over time based on your needs.

What can I drink and eat while I am sick?

Prepare for sick days by having a small amount of non-diet drinks and foods at home. Have about 50 grams of carbohydrates every 3 to 4 hours for upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea. Each of the liquids and foods listed below has about 10 to 15 grams of carbohydrate.

  • Liquids:
    • ⅓ to ½ cup of fruit juice
    • ½ cup of regular soda
    • 1 cup of milk
    • 1 double-stick popsicle
    • 1 cup of a sports drink
    • ½ cup of cream soup
  • Foods:
    • ½ cup of regular gelatin
    • ¼ cup of regular pudding
    • ½ cup of mashed potatoes, macaroni, or noodles
    • ½ cup of regular ice cream or ¼ cup of sherbet
    • 1 slice of dry toast, 6 saltine crackers, or 3 graham crackers

Have someone call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You cannot be woken.
  • You are drowsy or confused.
  • You are breathing faster than usual.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot keep food and liquids down at all for a few hours.
  • You are drowsy or confused.
  • You are breathing faster than usual.
  • Your heartbeat is faster than usual, or your heart is pounding.
  • You are weak or dizzy.

When should I call my doctor or diabetes care team provider?

  • You have leg cramps.
  • Your mouth or eyes are dry.
  • You are vomiting or have diarrhea.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your ketone level is higher than healthcare providers have told you it should be.
  • Your blood sugar level is higher than healthcare providers have told you it should be.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.