Baylor College of Medicine

Summer precautions for diabetics


Summertime brings the heat, and along with it comes increased cases of dehydration. Diabetics have a more serious risk for dehydration and should take extra precautions, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine.

“Everyone needs to stay hydrated during these hot summer months, but diabetics are at a higher risk and could face additional challenges because of blood sugar levels,” said Dr. Alan Garber, professor of medicine-endocrinology at Baylor. “Uncontrolled blood sugar levels are an independent cause of dehydration in diabetics.”

As blood sugar levels rise, the kidneys’ capability to absorb the sugar decreases. When this happens, individuals may pass more urine than usual, resulting in a quicker loss of fluids.

“Dehydration is more dangerous in diabetics than non-diabetics because it can lead to ketoacidosis,” Garber said. “Ketoacidosis is the buildup of acid in the blood and can be potentially life-threatening.”

Rehydration with fluids that contain electrolytes is crucial during these hot months. Garber recommends rehydrating with sugar-free sports drinks or Pedialyte and not drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Alcohol and caffeine act as diuretics, which increase water loss from the body.

People should drink 1,500 to 2,000 milliliters more than their insensible loss (water loss due to perspiration and urination) to keep the kidneys functioning well, he said.

Besides staying hydrated, proper foot care is essential for diabetics. During the summer, it’s important to keep feet clean and dry because sweaty socks can cause ulcers to develop on the feet.

“It’s important to check for sores daily because these sores can lead to a major source of infection,” Garber said. “Infection is the leading cause of diabetic amputation.”

Exercising and eating habits also can be influenced by the heat.

“Diabetics should be exercising for 30 minutes as many days as possible,” he said. “I tell my patients to find a mall or gymnasium to walk in during the summer. Sometimes in Texas it’s still too hot to walk outside once the sun goes down.”

For those looking to indulge in a sweet treat, stick to sugar-free frozen yogurt and treats that use sugar substitutes, Garber said.

Diabetics can still enjoy summertime activities as long as proper precautions are taken and their diabetes is well-controlled, he said.

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