It’s hotter than you-know-where outside right now. It’s a typical summer heat wave and you’re staying indoors with the air conditioning keeping things at a comfortable 78 degrees.
But, it’s not just your comfort that concerns you. For many people with diabetes it’s important to stay out of the hot weather because when things get sizzling outside you could find yourself in a very dangerous and risky condition.
According to research conducted by Dr. Sydney Westphal of the Mayo Clinic  “having diabetes places a person at risk for heat-related health problems [and] doctors “must be aware of possible complications that diabetic patients may encounter in summer heat to prevent problems.”
Dr. Westphal’s conclusion was confirmed by another study  in 2008 by Loma Linda University that found that heat caused a thinning of the skin and probably a reduction in capillaries in the dermal layer of diabetics. This contributes to a reduction in the blood flow as a response to heat. “People with diabetes, in particular, have reduced skin heat dissipation because of less resting blood flow and thinner skin than that seen in age-matched controls,” the researchers reported.
The problem for the millions of people around the world living with diabetes is that heat and high levels of sun exposure can pose particularly dangerous health risks. Dr. Deneen Vojta, a senior vice president and chief clinical officer of UnitedHealth Group's Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance says that, “diabetes actually impairs a person's ability to sweat, which means that hot, humid weather can dangerously reduce the body's regulation of blood sugar levels.”
Experts say there are several cautions that may help diabetics during periods of hot weather to stay healthy and safe.
1. Check blood sugar levels often when the weather gets hot. Changes in activity and heat levels can affect the body's insulin needs.
2. Wear sun block. That’s good advice for everyone, but for diabetics it’s especially true because sunburn can tax your body and trigger increased blood glucose levels.
3. Stay cool. If you have to be outdoors in the heat, take regular breaks in air-conditioned areas or designated cooling centers, if possible. And if exercise is part of your routine either slow it down, postpone it until the weathers cools, and/or make sure to exercise in an air-conditioned area.
4. If you carry your diabetic medication or testing kits with you, make sure you keep them cool and away from direct sunlight. Extreme temperatures and sunlight can have a damaging effect on diabetes medication such as insulin, causing the drug to break down or become less effective.
5. Stay hydrated. Yes, that’s true for everyone. But for diabetics dehydration stresses the body and affects glucose levels even more than for non-diabetics.
6. Skip the caffeine and alcohol when it gets hot. Both alcohol and caffeine have diuretic effects that can increase risks of dehydration.
7. Be aware. Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting are certain signs that diabetics are having a problem. You may need to get immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.
1. Managing Diabetes in the Heat: Potential Issues and Concerns, by Sydney A. Westphal, M.D., et. al. Endocrine Practice, May/June 2010.
2. Jerrold S. Petrofsky, Katie McLellan, Gurinder S. Bains, Michelle Prowse, Gomathi Ethiraju, Scott Lee, Shashi Gunda, Everett Lohman III, and Ernie Schwab. Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics. December 2008.