By Susan Klick, MSN, RN, CNL
We may not want to admit it, but we all know that those hot, humid St. Louis summer days are right around the corner! Summer is a great time to be with friends and family for outside entertainment, but don’t let the heat and humidity cause you to become dehydrated. Diabetics are at a higher risk for becoming dehydrated, so know what it is, what causes it, how to avoid it, and how to treat it.
What is Dehydration: When the amount of liquid in your blood is low in relation to the amount of nutrients and waste products in your blood, the body is dehydrated.
When Does Dehydration Occur: Dehydration occurs when your body does not have enough fluid to carry out its normal functions. Dehydration can be mild, or it can be severe and life threatening, resulting in coma and death. In addition to heat and humidity, low fluid intake, illness, exercise, excessive sweating, consuming alcoholic beverages and too much sun exposure can all cause dehydration.
Blood glucose levels increase causing fatigue, headache, blurred vision, increased thirst and an increased need to urinate. Since diabetes is characterized by increased thirst and urination anyway, if you are diabetic, dehydration can rapidly become a serious problem. Severe dehydration adds irritability, dry mouth, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and fever. Delirium, unconsciousness and death can follow.
Avoiding Dehydration: Exercising in high heat and humid conditions requires a greater fluid intake, as does spending the day at the beach – but avoid beverages containing high sugar or alcohol. When the humidity is high, your sweat cannot evaporate as well. Wear clothing that allows sweat to evaporate easily. Pay attention to your body’s thirst signals. When you are outside in the heat, test your blood glucose more frequently. Have a plan to prevent or minimize dehydration caused by fever, vomiting or diarrhea.
Taking Action: If you suspect you are mildly dehydrated, check your blood sugar. If it is high, take immediate steps to lower it. Drink water or a beverage with electrolytes and follow your doctor’s instructions about taking insulin or other medications. Do not drink coffee, tea or other liquids which act as diuretics. Focus on rehydrating (providing enough fluid for your body to function properly). While keeping your glucose levels under control is important, you cannot maintain normal glucose levels without reversing the dehydration.
If you have any symptoms of severe dehydration–if you cannot keep fluids down, are disoriented, develop severe diarrhea or vomiting, have blue lips, cold hands or feet, or if you are extremely thirsty and do not urinate for seven to eight hours–seek medical attention immediately. Severe dehydration constitutes a life-threatening emergency.
Remember: Both hot weather and high blood sugar can cause dehydration. This makes it doubly important to drink plenty of fluid. From your friends at the St. Anthony’s Outpatient Diabetes and Nutrition office – have a safe and fun-filled summer.