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Diabetes and Heat


Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN    

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Expert Q&A on Diabetes Complications

Serious complications can develop if you don't treat your diabetes properly.
Sweating businessman

Whether you love hot weather or it’s something you just tolerate, learning to adapt to the heat is an important part of staying healthy. As the mercury climbs, we often hear public service announcements warning us about the dangers of extreme heat. While these warnings often mention dangers for people with lung or heart disease, they don’t usually say anything about diabetes. But people with diabetes do have a higher risk of developing heat-related health problems, and many don’t know it.

Protecting Your Medicines and Testing Strips

If you take insulin, you know it needs to be kept in a cool place. Heat reduces insulin’s effectiveness to the point that it may not work at all if it gets too warm. So carrying your insulin pen in your pocket or small purse when it’s hot outside could put your health at risk. You should also be careful if you use an insulin pump. There have been reports of too-warm insulin clogging up tubing and reservoirs in some pumps, making it harder for them to work properly.

On top of tracking your diet and blood sugar, regular exercise is a key part of managing your diabetes. And while any exercise is better than none, certain activities have specific benefits for people with diabetes.

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In addition to affecting your medications and insulin, sunshine and humidity can also make it hard for you to get accurate test results when you’re checking your blood glucose levels. Manufacturers recommend that test strips be kept out of direct sunlight and away from humidity for best results. Since you should test more often in hot weather, not having your testing supplies with you isn’t really an option though.

So if you’re out an about in the heat, don’t leave your medications or testing supplies in direct sunlight or in areas that can get extremely hot, such as your car, or in a picnic basket on the beach. If you’re going to be out for an extended period, consider using a small cooler to keep your insulin and test strips cool, but don’t place them directly on ice or cooler packs. You don’t want your supplies to get warm, but you don’t want to freeze them either. If you use an insulin pump, there are insulated pump wallets that can protect your pump and insulin from the heat.            

High Heat, Varying Blood Glucose Levels

If you spend a lot of time outside or if you don’t have air conditioning indoors, the high temperatures can affect your glucose levels, especially if you are exercising – running, swimming, cycling, and so on. It’s important to check your blood sugar levels more often, so you can either take in more sugar or adjust your insulin, as needed.

Dehydration: Drink Plenty of Water

Hot weather can cause dehydration in anyone who doesn’t drink enough fluids, but people with diabetes seem to be at higher risk of dehydration. As your body tries to cool off in the heat, you begin to sweat – the more you sweat, the more fluid your body loses. As you lose body fluid, your blood glucose levels can climb, starting a chain reaction. As your glucose levels elevate, you may need to urinate more, which can dehydrate you even further. So to reduce the risk of dehydration, be sure to drink more fluids to replace what you are losing. Also, avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks. While they may quench your thirst at the moment, they have a dehydrating effect in the long run. And move into the shade or a cooler area if you feel like you’re getting too warm.

Avoid the Barefoot Temptation

One of the joys of warmer weather is being able to walk barefoot – no need for heavy shoes or boots. But people with diabetes have to be extra careful about their feet, because a sore on the foot can develop into something much more serious. Check your feet frequently if you do go barefoot, you’ve gone swimming without water shoes, or if you wear sandals or flip-flops for signs of burns (from hot pavement), cuts, blisters, or sores.

Summer weather is particularly appealing to people who live in cooler climates. The idea of being outside without having to bundle up is something that many of us look forward to. If you have diabetes, you don’t need to forsake the beautiful sunshine and warmth, but you do need to take some extra precautions so you can enjoy the summer weather safely.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: May 16, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Plan for Diabetes Care in Extreme Heat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Testing Strips and Testing Tips. American Diabetes Association.
  3. Many People with Diabetes Do Not Know or Heed Dangers of Hot Weather. Endocrine Society.
  4. How to Manage Your Diabetes in Extreme Summer Heat. Cleveland Clinic.

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