Extreme weather conditions – both hot and cold – can affect people with diabetes in a number of ways.
During the winter, people with diabetes tend to experience higher A1C levels than during the warmer months. It’s not known exactly why this happens, but a number of studies have confirmed this fact.
In fact, the Veterans Administration Diabetes Trial – a study of almost 2,000 people in 20 sites across America – analyzed A1C levels of study participant with respect to weather. After considering factors that could affect A1C levels, such as age, sex, race and severity of diabetes, the researchers found an independent seasonal pattern linked to colder temperatures. In all climates, A1C levels peaked from February through April; they hit their lowest points in August through September. The people who experienced the most fluctuation in A1C levels were those who lived in what researchers called “intermediate” climates – places where winter temperatures ranged from 0 to 4 degrees Celsius (32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit).
Knowing this, there are some things you can do to help control your blood sugar and A1C levels more effectively during the winter months.
Keep testing your blood sugar levels.
Freezing temperatures can leave you with cold hands, which makes blood testing more difficult. Don’t let the cold put you off, though. Regular testing will help you to catch any highs or lows, and also help keep your sugar levels under control. If your hands are cold, try warming them up on a warm mug of coffee or tea, or immerse your hands in a warm – not too hot! – sink full of water before testing.
Keep your activity levels up.
Even just a little physical activity each day can help keep you warm during the cold winter months. It can also help you regulate your blood sugar levels. A number of studies have shown that even 20 to 30 minutes of light physical activity – such as going for a walk after a meal – can reduce post-meal blood glucose levels. Learn more about staying active in cold weather.
Take care of your health.
Wintertime is also cold and flu season, and it’s well-known that blood glucose levels can rise when you get sick. This is because sickness can stress the body, which makes your blood sugar go up. As well, certain cold medications can raise blood sugars. It is especially important for people with diabetes to get an annual flu shot. Learn more about the flu shot here.
Whether you’re vacationing in a hot climate, or spending more time outdoors in the heat of summer, high temperatures and humidity can have an effect on people with diabetes.
Generally, people are more active during the warmer months, and increased physical activity can lead to a higher risk of hypoglycemia. The body’s metabolism is also higher in hot and humid weather, which is another reason why hypoglycemia might occur more often. As well, dehydration can be an issue in hot weather; people who have higher than normal blood glucose levels have an increased risk of dehydration. Learn more about diabetes and dehydration here.
Knowing this, there are some things you can do to help control your blood sugar and A1C levels more effectively during the summer months.
Drink plenty of fluids.
People with diabetes should increase their intake of fluids in hot weather, and drink water regularly through the day.
Test your blood sugar regularly.
Hypoglycemia can be harder to spot in hot weather, as the symptoms – such as sweating and fatigue – are easily attributed to the effects of hot and humid weather. To prevent hypoglycemia, be prepared to test your blood glucose more often, particularly if you’re taking part in physical activity in hot weather. Talk to your healthcare team about how often you should test your blood sugar, especially in the summer months. And be sure to carry a source of fast-acting carbohydrate with you at all times, to ensure that you can treat a hypo quickly if it should occur.
Pay attention to your insulin regimen.
People who take insulin to manage their diabetes may need to adjust their insulin regimen during changes in temperature. If you are experiencing higher or lower blood sugar levels and need advice about adjusting your insulin levels, talk to your healthcare team about it.
Whether it’s a scorching summer day or a sub-zero winter evening, be sure to pay attention to the effects that weather and temperatures can have on your diabetes management.