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Diabetes Patients Should Avoid the Heat

Hot weather and diabetes can make for a potentially dangerous combination, according to a Mayo Clinic presentation. The ability to sweat in the heat can be impaired in some patients with diabetes. Also, glucose strips and medications can become ineffective.

Adrienne Nassar, M.D., and Curtiss Cook, M.D., along with colleagues from Mayo Clinic, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Phoenix branch of the National Weather Service, developed a survey that revealed that people with diabetes living in Arizona have considerable gaps in their “heat awareness.”

Sweating is an important means of cooling the body in hot weather, and past research has shown that the ability to sweat in the heat can be impaired in some patients with diabetes. Other studies have shown that during hot weather, diabetes patients have an increased number of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths. Furthermore, heat can damage diabetes equipment, such as glucose monitoring devices and glucose monitoring strips, as well as medications, rendering them ineffective.

The survey, which took place at a Phoenix diabetes clinic, analyzed results from 152 responders whose mean age was 64 years and diabetes duration 15 years. Many patients interviewed would often wait until temperatures were quite high (in some cases above 101°F) before taking measures to protect themselves from the heat. In addition, more than a third of patients simply left medications or supplies at home rather than risk exposing them to heat, and thus would not have the means to manage their diabetes while away.

Only about 40 percent of patients reported receiving information about the effect of heat on oral medications, glucose monitors and glucose monitoring strips. One in five patients did not know at what temperature to begin protecting their medications, diabetes equipment and supplies. The survey also revealed poor understanding of the heat index, which is a measure of how hot it really feels when humidity is added to the actual temperature.

The study authors agree that patients with diabetes can benefit from more education about the risks related to hot weather — especially in places like Arizona. “We found that people living with diabetes in hot climates need to be more aware of how heat affects management of their disease,” said Dr. Nassar, at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Increased public awareness of this important topic is needed, and diabetes education programs should include information about the heat, especially in the Southwest, the authors conclude.

Study will be published in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Diego, California, June 19-22.