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Summer Heat and Safety with Diabetes

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Updated July 03, 2009

Summer is the time of year to enjoy being outdoors, whether going on vacation, going to the beach or just relaxing in the sunshine. When summer arrives, so do high temperatures and humidity. People with chronic conditions have to be even more careful in the heat than usual, especially with diabetes.

Hot summer weather can cause dehydration very quickly. It's important for everyone to increase their intake of liquids, not just people with diabetes. However, dehydration can also occur when blood glucose levels are high, regardless of temperature, so when the thermometer soars, it becomes doubly important to get enough fluids.

  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially water. Watch out for sugar-laden juices and sports drinks though -- they can just compound the problem. Caffeinated beverages in moderate amounts do not seem to affect blood glucose levels, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA). However, consuming large amounts of caffeine over a shorter amount of time appears to raise blood glucose.

  • Exercise or do more strenuous activities in the early or later hours of the day when temperatures are cooler and the sun is not at it's peak.

  • It's also recommended to check your blood glucose levels often when it's hot outside. Both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia can be a problem during hot weather.

It's good to know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion, too, since the risk is higher in people with diabetes. The symptoms of heat exhaustion outlined by the Joslin Diabetes Clinic are:

  • Feeling dizzy or fainting
  • Sweating excessively
  • Muscle cramping
  • Cool or clammy skin
  • Headaches
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
Resting in a cool place and drinking more water should help you feel better. A call to your doctor is also a good idea. He or she may want to follow up with an office visit or other interventions.

If heat exhaustion is not taken care of, it can quickly progess to heat stroke. Heat stroke is a more urgent matter and is a medical emergency. Symptoms can include warm, flushed skin, little or no sweating, and an extremely high body temperature. Confusion, loss of consciousness, or seizures may also occur. A call to 911 is the best way to get help fast.

The summer heat can also be a concern when trying to carry supplies such as insulin, meters and strips with you. Insulated bags with small refreezable ice packs are good for keeping things cool. Keep equipment out of direct sunlight as much as possible.

With some advanced planning and special considerations, summer can still be a safe and enjoyable time of year.

Sources:

"Diabetes-Friendly Tips for Handling the Summer Heat." Joslin Diabetes Center. Joslin Diabetes Center. 29 Jun 2007.

Theresa Taillefer BASc, RD, CDE, "Does Coffee or Caffeine Affect my Diabetes?" About Diabetes. 1997. Canadian Diabetes Associaiton. 29 Jun 2007.

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