Top 8 Tips for Managing a Sick Day

Published on
By : Suvarna Sheth

A cold, the flu or an infection can raise your blood sugar levels. It can also zap your energy level and your appetite and keep you from exercising.

And if you don’t take care of your diabetes when you’re sick, you could get very ill and may need to go to the hospital for treatment. So be prepared for illness.

Make a plan ahead of time for sick days. Keep reading for tips to follow when you are under the weather.


1. Eat Healthy Food and Stay Hydrated

Keep plenty of foods and drinks on hand that are easy on your stomach. Choose foods that don’t spoil or have a long shelf life.

Examples are sugar-free gelatin and popsicles, broth soup and applesauce. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Try to drink 1 cup, or 8 ounces, of liquid every hour while you’re awake. Try to avoid drinks that have a lot of carbohydrates or caffeine.

Stay in Bed

2. Stay In Bed

Stay home and rest! Sleep helps your body fight infection. If you don’t get enough rest, you may stay sick longer. And staying out of public places will stop the spread of germs. If you have a fever, wait 24 hours until it returns to normal before you go out into the world again.

Empty Wine

3. Pass Up Alcohol and Tobacco

If you drink alcohol and smoke while you are sick, your illness may last longer. Your immune system fights germs and disease and keeps you well, and drinking and smoking make it weaker.

Drinking alcohol when you are sick can also:

  • Cause an interaction with medicine, you may be taking to get better
  • Cause problems with sleep
  • Make you less aware of symptoms of high or low blood sugar

Smoking when you are sick can also:

  • Increase your risk for breathing problems and infections.

If you do smoke, try to stop completely. Smoking raises your risk of heart disease, which is already higher due to your diabetes. And it causes many other health problems.

Test Often

4. Test Often

You’ll need to test your blood sugar often when you are sick so you can catch highs early.

Check your blood glucose level at least four times a day and write down the results. Ask your doctor how often you should check for ketones.

Usually, if your blood sugar is over 240 mg/dl for two or more tests, you should also test for ketones. When you are ill and blood sugar is running high, ketones are a sign that you may be at risk for a high blood sugar emergency.

Medicine Cabinet

5. Stock Up the Medicine Cabinet

Keep a thermometer on hand, as well as medications to treat diarrhea, vomiting, and cold and flu symptoms. Talk to your doctor about what medicines are best.

Some over-the-counter cold medicines may raise your blood sugar or may not work well with other medication you take every day. Always have lots of blood sugar meter testing strips around for sick days.

Testing often is important when you are ill. And have ketone strips for urine tests on hand as well.

Stay in touch

6. Stay In Touch

If you get sick, see your doctor early so you can treat your symptoms and feel better quickly.

You should also talk to your doctor about when you should call his office. For example, he may want you to call if your blood sugar reaches a certain number.

Talking to your doctor now, before you get sick, is the best way to be prepared for when you are feeling under the weather.


7. Don’t Skip Your Medication

Take your diabetes medicines, even if you are not able to eat and/or have been throwing up. Ask your doctor about how to adjust your insulin dose based on your blood sugar test results. If your medicines aren’t bringing down your blood sugar, call your doctor to talk about changing the dose.

Urgent care

8. Know When To Call For Help

Call your doctor or go to the urgent care right away if:

  • your blood sugar levels are above 240 mg/dl, even though you’ve taken your diabetes medicines
  • your ketone levels are above normal
  • you vomit more than once
  • you have diarrhea for more than six hours
  • you have trouble breathing
  • you have a high fever
  • you can’t think clearly or you feel sleepier than usual

Remember: A sick day plan can help you keep your blood sugar under control when you are ill. You can use our sick day checklist to make your own plan at your next doctor’s appointment.


1. ADA Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes 2011. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care, Volume 34, Supplement 1.

2. Kristen L. Knutson, Ph.D.; Armand M. Ryden, MD; Bryce A. Mander, BA; Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D. Role of Sleep Duration and Quality in the Risk and Severity of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Archives of Internal Medicine study.

3. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Taking Care of Your Diabetes at Special Times. (Accessed 10/9/18.)

Reviewed by Jason C. Baker, MD.