Why diabetes patients are affected so much worse by the flu

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Why diabetes patients are affected so much worse by the flu

If you have diabetes and catch the flu, your diabetes can make the immune system more vulnerable to severe cases of the flu (1). You’re more likely to develop complications or to be hospitalised (1). The flu could make managing your blood glucose levels more difficult, and this could also lead to serious complications in extreme cases (2).

Let’s take a closer look at exactly why people with diabetes are about six times more likely to be hospitalised with complications from the flu (2) – and the steps you can take to protect yourself so you can enjoy a normal life throughout the flu season.

At greater risk during the flu season

Your diabetes means your immune system is less able to respond to and deal with infections (3), making you more susceptible to catching the flu (3) than someone with no underlying health conditions. You’re also at higher risk of developing a severe case of the flu or complications (1). Your weakened immune system means you’re also more likely to be hospitalised with the flu (1) and likely to take longer to recover (3).

The flu itself can also have a significant impact on your blood glucose levels (3), making it more difficult for you to manage your diabetes (4). When you’re ill with an infection such as the flu, your body will release extra glucose into your bloodstream in a bid to help combat the illness (5). Your body will need significantly more insulin (2) – making it harder for you to keep your blood glucose levels under control (5). Added to that, while you have the flu, your feelings of illness could mask symptoms of high or low blood glucose levels – both of which can be serious if not treated quickly enough (3).

If your blood glucose levels rise, you’re at risk of producing ketones (2). Equally, if you don’t feel like eating while you have the flu, your body may need to break down fat to make fuel, and this could also lead to it producing more ketones (5). Ketones could make you feel very unwell (2). A ketone build-up could also prevent other areas of your body from working properly and, if left untreated, lead to serious complications (2).

Stay well through the winter

If you have diabetes, especially type 1 diabetes, you will likely take longer to recover from the flu (3). That means you would feel unwell with the flu for longer than others generally would. And you might need to refrain from going to work, attending school or college, or even going out with family and friends for longer too.

So, why not add an annual flu vaccine to your routine. It’s one more way to stay in control of your diabetes (1).

(1) https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/projects/pdfs/eng_brochure.pdf
(2) https://jdrf.org.uk/information-support/living-with-type-1-diabetes/health-and-wellness/sickness/
(3) http://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-complications/lung-conditions.html
(4) https://www.diabetes.co.uk/flu-and-diabetes.html
(5) https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-illness.html


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