It’s that time of the year again. The trees are changing colors, days are getting shorter, and it’s getting colder by the day. While the fall and winter seasons do have their upsides, they are definitely a challenging time for everybody.
As the days shorten, we experience less of the shining sun, which can be a real mental challenge. The lack of sunlight can be accompanied by increased levels of stress and tiredness. But autumn and winter also present those living with diabetes with real physical challenges.
Excessive cold stresses and strains the body. This stress often causes the body to go into a flight-or-fight mode, releasing hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These survival hormones cause the liver to release more glucose for energy, which can result in higher-than-normal blood sugar levels.
If you’re going out for a walk or to spend some time outside, you need to remember not to stay out long in the extreme cold, especially if you have any cardiac issues or neuropathy, to avoid injury. Similarly, the cold weather can make blood thicker and more prone to clotting which can pose dangers because of increased blood pressure.
As always, it’s of utmost importance to continually check your blood glucose to ensure you are within a healthy range. In fact, higher blood sugar levels make you feel warmer in cold temperatures since the sugar content in the blood makes it harder to cool down or freeze.
Cold weather can also affect your medications and diabetes supplies. Don’t forget to protect your insulin and testing equipment from extreme cold, and keep them indoors if possible. If your monitor won’t work, try warming it up under your arm for a few minutes. Sometimes hot tea or other hot liquid in a non-insulated container packed with your supplies will prevent equipment from freezing.
Insulin needs to be kept cold, but should not be allowed to freeze. Insulin is a protein and is therefore subject to degradation in extreme temperatures. If you see an unusual blood sugar reading that cannot be explained, you may want to try using a fresh bottle of insulin, as sometimes extreme temperature changes cause potency changes in this insulin.
Blood sugar levels are dependent on factors besides the temperature, such as hydration, exercise, and the food you eat, but hydration is probably the single most important element to help us stay healthy outdoors.
Clear fluids such as water are best, with Gatorade or another electrolyte-containing beverage handy if you are sweating excessively. Anyone with diabetes is especially prone to dehydration, which can become dangerous if left unchecked because it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. At the same time, dehydration can cause confusion, which may make a person unaware of low blood sugar.
Overall, the two most important pieces of advice when you are outdoors are to stay well hydrated and to test blood sugar levels more frequently. If you keep these tips in mind before going out in the cold this fall or winter, you’ll be sure to stay safe and enjoy the weather.
Who knows, if you’re lucky, you may even get to play in the snow!
Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 29 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for most of her career. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.
Susan has published numerous articles on the topic of diabetes for patients and health care professionals. She has committed her career goals to helping patients with diabetes stay well through education.
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.