08/15/2017

Beat the heat and stay cool with diabetes

Diabetes educator offers six tips to protect yourself and your supplies during hot summer months

When it’s hot outside, we all need to take precautions to stay cool and healthy. That’s especially true for people diagnosed with certain medical conditions, including diabetes.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t make or use insulin correctly. The most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the body makes little or no insulin due to an autoimmune reaction that destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or resists insulin. 

Aggie Cowan, certified diabetes educator with St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Diabetes Management
Aggie Cowan, MS, RD/LD, CDE, certified diabetes educator with St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Diabetes Management

People who have both type 1 and type 2 diabetes feel the heat more than people who don’t have diabetes for a variety of reasons including:

  • An impaired ability to sweat because certain diabetes complications, such as damage to blood vessels and nerves, can affect your sweat glands so your body doesn’t cool as effectively. As a result, developing heat stroke is a greater risk if you have diabetes.
  • People with diabetes get dehydrated easier. Dehydration can raise your blood sugar levels and in turn, high blood sugar can cause frequent urination, which also causes dehydration.
  • High temperatures can change how your body uses insulin. Therefore, people with diabetes should check their blood sugar more often during hot, humid months.

“The summer heat can take the energy out of all of us but especially if you are living with diabetes,” says Aggie Cowan, MS, RD/LD, CDE, certified diabetes educator with St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Diabetes Management. “Hydration is really important for someone with diabetes because if you get behind on your fluids your glucoses tend to rise.”

A new study released in July by the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Diabetes Translation reports more than 100 million people in the United States have diabetes or prediabetes. The report, which analyzed health data through 2015, found 30.3 million Americans, close to 1 in 10, have diabetes. In Georgia, almost 1 in 12 has diabetes. More than 84 million American adults, approximately 1 in 3, have prediabetes.

Prediabetes occurs when someone starts to develop blood sugars that are higher than normal but not in the range that is considered diabetes, Cowan says. Prediabetes may be diagnosed when the hemoglobin A1C is between 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent. A hemoglobin A1C 6.5 percent or higher is diagnostic of diabetes. A percentage less than 5.7 is normal.

Because of our location in the south, people with diabetes need to take extra precautions during hot, humid months. When sweat evaporates on your skin, it removes heat and cools you. However, it’s harder to stay cool in high humidity because sweat doesn’t evaporate as well.

Cowan offers these six tips for protecting yourself and your diabetes supplies during hot summer months:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids. Water is the best, Cowan says, but people with diabetes also can try calorie-free and caffeine-free beverages. She suggests flavoring a pitcher of water with pineapple chunks, watermelon cubes or peach slices for a change of taste. Cowan reminds people to drink before and after being in the heat and drink fluids even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  2. Move your walking routine indoors. Cowan suggests walking the malls or aisles in big department or grocery stores or using gym or clubhouse equipment during summer months to “shake up” your exercise and activity routine. If you wish to walk outdoors, Cowan recommends walking in the early, cooler hours or later at night.
  3. Keep your feet cool and covered to protect them from hot surfaces like sand and pavement and to prevent stubbed toes. If you have diabetic neuropathy – or damage to your nerves – you may not feel the hot surface or the sharp object you stepped on.
  4. Check your blood sugar more often in the summer months, especially if you are traveling, eating out more or eating different summertime foods. “Knowledge is power and knowing what your blood sugar levels are gives you the power to do something to correct levels that are out of range,” Cowan says.
  5. Protect your skin with a good sunscreen and apply liberally. An SPF of at least 30 is recommended for skin protection. Cowan also suggests using hand or body lotion more often to protect your skin from the dryness of summer heat and air conditioning.
  6. Be sure to keep your diabetes medications and supplies cool too. Insulin and insulin pens need a cooler pack if you are going to be outside for long periods of time. The same applies to glucose meters and test strips. A locked car, picnic table or beach bag are too hot for your supplies, Cowan says.

The SJ/C Center for Diabetes Management is an American Diabetes Association certified program. It offers individual diabetes management counseling programs as well as group educational classes on topics including exercise, carb counting and diet and preventing complications with diabetes.

A doctor’s referral is required for insurance reimbursement; however, the staff can help with referrals. For more information, call 912-819-6146 or visit our website

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000