Phil Day By Superintendent Pharmacist Published:

The coronavirus (COVID-19) can make anybody seriously ill, but for people with certain health conditions, the risk can be even higher. Diabetes is one such condition and if you or someone in your life has it, there are extra precautions that should be taken into consideration during the pandemic. 

What is diabetes? 

Diabetes is a lifelong condition which causes the blood sugar levels in the body to increase, which can lead to long term health problems. There are 2 types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: where the cells which produce insulin are attacked by your body’s immune system, and do not produce any insulin. 
  • Type 2: where your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells are resistant to it. 

The most common form of diabetes is type 2. In the UK around 90% of all adults with diabetes have this type. You can learn more about diabetes on the NHS website

Life in lockdown 

The UK is currently in lockdown and this will remain the case until 7th May, at which point it will be reviewed again by the Government. This means that we’re all having to stay home, except under very specific circumstances:

  1. To get exercise (once a day)
  2. To get necessities (food and medicine)
  3. For medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person
  4. Going to or from work (when it absolutely can’t be done from home)

However, if you have diabetes you are considered to be at a ‘high risk’ of health complications from coronavirus which means you have to be very careful.

What to do if you’re classed as ‘high risk’?

If you have diabetes then the coronavirus poses an increased risk to your health, and it is even more important for you to follow the advice to stay at home unless it’s absolutely essential (e.g. getting food or medicine). If you do leave home, practise social distancing and thorough hygiene measures. You should also try and get medical assistance at home

Have your diabetes medication delivered

In these trying circumstances, one of the best things you can do to protect your health is to be as prepared as possible. Using online services to get your essential groceries and medicine is one way to help minimise the risk of catching the coronavirus.

Pharmacy2U is one such service which can help those with diabetes. You can order online or over the phone, from the safety of home. Our team of pharmacists will dispense your diabetes medication and it’s delivered to your door for free – including insulin, which is delivered in cooled, protective packaging that keeps a controlled temperature between 2°C and 8°C. 

You can find out more about Pharmacy2U here

An important note regarding some tablets for diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, and you take one of the tablets below, you may be asked to stop them if you become ill with coronavirus, as there’s a chance that they could increase your risk of developing a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Tell any healthcare professionals you talk to about the medicines you’re taking and don’t stop taking any regular medication without professional advice.

  • Dapagliflozin; brand name Forxiga® (with metformin, Xigduo®)
  • Canagliflozin; brand name Invokana® (with metformin, Vokanamet®)
  • Empagliflozin; brand name Jardiance® (with metformin, Synjardy®)
  • Ertugliflozin; brand name Steglatro®

What to do if you have diabetes and are showing coronavirus symptoms

The 2 main symptoms of the coronavirus are:

  • A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, don’t go to the hospital, GP or pharmacist without first seeking medical advice online or over the phone.

General advice for people who have coronavirus symptoms:

  • If living alone, stay at home for 7 days from when you started to experience symptoms.
  • If you live with someone who has either been diagnosed with coronavirus or has the symptoms above, then stay at home for 14 days from when the first person showed symptoms. You should also stay at home for 7 days if your symptoms start later, even if this means you’re at home for longer than 14 days.
  • When it comes to medication, follow the advice of your GP practice, practice nurse or diabetes team.

Specific advice for those with diabetes who have coronavirus symptoms:

  • If you do check your blood sugar at home, check it more frequently. 
  • If you don’t check your blood sugar at home, be aware of the signs of high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia):
    • Passing more urine than normal (particularly at night) 
    • Feeling very thirsty
    • Experiencing headaches
    • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Check your blood sugar levels at least every 4 hours if you have type 1 diabetes, including during the night, and also check your ketone levels.
  • Contact your diabetes team if your blood sugar level is high (generally 15mmol/l or more, or 13mmol/l if you use an insulin pump, but your team may have given you different targets) or if ketones are present.
  • Make sure you keep eating and drinking. If you’re struggling to keep food down, try snacks or drinks with carbohydrates in to give you energy. You can try sipping sugary drinks, or sucking on glucose tablets or sweets like jelly beans.
  • If you’re vomiting and can’t keep fluids down seek medical help as quickly as possible or call 999. 

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