What you need to do when you’re ill – on top of having Type 2 diabetes

A handy guide to dealing with illness as an individual with Type 2 diabetes

July, 2017


Why being ill is a bigger deal for people with Type 2 diabetes

If you have Type 2 diabetes, when you get ill with other things it can be worse than you might otherwise feel. If your friend without diabetes gets a nasty cold, he or she can take a hot lemon drink to bed and sweat it out. When you have diabetes, however, the stress of the illness on your body can send your blood sugar levels climbing – what’s more, you will need to check which over-the-counter remedies are suitable for people with Type 2 diabetes.

In effect you have three problems on your hands:

  • Diabetes can make illnesses worse – an infection can be more serious for you than for others
  • Illnesses can make diabetes worse – the stress on your body can raise your blood glucose level
  • Diabetes limits some of the remedies you can take for an illness

What happens if I get an illness and I have Type 2 diabetes?

An infection can be caused by viruses or by bacteria. When either of these nasty microbes get into your system, your body starts producing extra glucose to cope with the strain. This makes the pancreas release more insulin, so the cells around the body can use this extra glucose as fuel. In Type 2 diabetes though, the additional insulin you need just isn’t there, or isn’t used effectively, so your blood glucose levels can just keep rising. No-one likes being ill, but when you have diabetes as well it can make you feel much worse than someone else with the same illness, because you also have all the problems of high blood glucose.

What to do right now


Man taking medicine
Test for glucose.

If you have a home blood glucose testing kit, use it more regularly – at least every 4 hours – and keep going through the night. If you don’t have a home glucose testing kit, be especially mindful of the symptoms of hyperglycaemia – right from the first signs of your illness until you’re back to your old self again. If your glucose levels are getting dangerously high, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later, and to take action straight away. Contact your diabetes care team if you feel unsure or if you have any queries.

Learn more about hyperglycaemia

Drink water.

High blood glucose levels can make you thirsty as your body tries to flush out the extra glucose through urine. Guard against becoming dehydrated by drinking plenty of water or other sugar-free drinks.

If you can’t keep any fluids down, or if you’re being sick, get medical help as soon as you can.


Sometimes when you’re really ill, the last thing you feel like doing is eating. But if you’re not eating, your body might produce more ketones as it breaks down fat for fuel. A high level of ketones in your blood is potentially very dangerous. So it’s good to try and eat little and often.

If this still isn’t going in and you can’t keep any fluids down, or you’re still being sick, get some medical advice as soon as possible.

Learn more about ketoacidosis

Don’t forget your medication.

It’s important to keep taking any diabetes medicines you have been prescribed to help control your blood glucose, unless you have been specifically advised by a member of your diabetes care team to stop taking these medications during your illness.


Person checking phone
Get some advice.

Contact your diabetes care team, Diabetes Specialist Nurse or GP. They’ll be able to answer any queries you have about medications and advise you on what’s best to do next. Where possible, it’s best to see a healthcare professional rather than try to diagnose and treat yourself, especially when you have Type 2 diabetes.

Call 111.

If you can’t get through to your healthcare team, you’re struggling to get your blood glucose levels down, being sick, or if you start to feel worse, call the free NHS 111 service for advice – don’t forget to tell them you have Type 2 diabetes.

Call 999.

Someone with you should call 999 if you lose consciousness, vomit a lot, have a fast pulse and fast breathing, or if you (or the person calling for you) are extremely worried.

In addition, you could also test for ketones if you’re able to do so. If your blood glucose levels are high (15 mmol/l or more), it may be a good idea to test for ketones as well as glucose – some blood glucose monitors can also test for ketones, or you might have some urine dip sticks. Ask your GP or diabetes specialist nurse if you need to test for ketones – this is more often a problem for people with Type 1 diabetes, but in some cases, it might be useful for people with Type 2 diabetes (especially those taking insulin).