August 20, 2010

People in Maryland with diabetes need special care during hot weather

Temperatures this August are expected to sizzle, and could reach a searing 95 degrees. Unfortunately, many people in Maryland with diabetes may be unaware that this kind of intense summer heat can raise their risk of experiencing serious illness. People with diabetes are particularly vulnerable to heat and humidity because their bodies are less capable of adjusting to increases in temperature. In fact, these individuals often have a reduced ability to sweat, which, in hot, humid weather, can further impair the body’s capacity to regulate sugar levels in the blood. In addition, nerve damage – a common effect of diabetes – affects sweat glands and other organs, making it harder for people with diabetes to cool down.

Despite this fact, a recent study from the Mayo Clinic found that one in five people with diabetes said they would not take any preventive measures until it was more than 100 degrees – which is often too late to avoid serious complications. That’s why it is critical for people with this disease take steps to avoid potentially life-threatening heat-related illnesses. If you or a loved one has diabetes, remember to take proper precautions during this heat wave.

➢ Avoid extended exposure to the sun. Wear plenty of sun block to avoid sunburn, which can tax your body and cause blood glucose levels to rise.
➢ Check your blood sugar levels often. Many people tend to be more active in the summer months, and changes in activity and heat levels can affect the insulin needs of people with diabetes.
➢ Drink plenty of water. It is important to avoid dehydration, which places further stress on the body and affects glucose levels.
➢ Stay cool. If possible, take breaks from the heat in air-conditioned areas or designated cooling centers.
➢ Keep medication and supplies as cool as possible, and away from direct sunlight. Extreme temperatures can cause insulin and other supplies to break down or become less potent.
➢ Avoid caffeine and alcohol in high temperatures. Both alcohol and caffeine can increase the risk of dehydration for people with diabetes.
➢ Be alert for signs of heat exhaustion. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists these signals as common signs of heat exhaustion: heavy sweating; paleness; muscle cramps; tiredness; weakness; dizziness; headache; nausea or vomiting; and/or fainting.

Remember to be on the lookout for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and seek medical attention right away if you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms.

Deneen Vojta, M.D, is senior vice president of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization, and co- creator of UnitedHealth Group’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance (DPCA). The DPCA is an innovative partnership between UnitedHealth Group, YMCA of the USA and retail pharmacies beginning with Walgreens, to combat Type 2 diabetes. The DPCA is based on research funded by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health that demonstrated that lifestyle intervention and exercise can reduce the chances of developing diabetes.

About UnitedHealth Group UnitedHealth Group ( is a diversified health and well-being company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making health care work better. With headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn., UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of health benefit programs through UnitedHealthcare, Ovations and AmeriChoice, and health services through Ingenix, OptumHealth and Prescription Solutions. Through its family of businesses, UnitedHealth Group serves more than 75 million people worldwide.

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