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Disaster preparedness and diabetes: What you should know

People with diabetes need to take a few extra steps when it comes to emergency preparedness.

Every household should be prepared for when a disaster strikes. That's particularly true if you or someone in your family has diabetes.

In addition to the usual concerns in the aftermath of a disaster—such as food, water and shelter—you may have to contend with issues like medications, glucose meters, insulin pumps, medication storage and a potential need for medical care.

That's where an emergency diabetes plan comes in. If you or a loved one has diabetes, the American Diabetes Association offers the following general advice for disaster preparedness.

1. Let rescue workers know you have diabetes. When emergency personnel are trying to decide where to send people, the knowledge that you have a chronic medical condition may make a difference in how your situation is handled.

2. Stay hydrated. Dehydration can be a big concern for people with high blood sugar. When blood glucose is high (hyperglycemia), the body tries to lower it by ridding itself of glucose through urination. Perspiration can add to this fluid loss. If dehydration persists, serious complications can occur. So drinking enough fluids is vital. Keep a three-day supply of water on hand to ensure you're prepared.

3. Keep a sugary treat on you at all times. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can cause a wide range of serious symptoms like shakiness, chills and cold sweats, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and strange behavior. Eating something sugary can help raise your blood sugar.

4. Prevent infections, particularly in your feet. Because people with diabetes are at increased risk for infections in their feet, it's best to avoid walking through contaminated water or injuring your feet. Check your feet regularly. If you notice signs of infection, seek immediate medical help.

5. Protect your insulin supply. If you are dependent on insulin, it's important to safeguard your supply in case of an emergency. Insulin is best stored unopened in a cooler and kept at approximately 36 degrees to 46 degrees. If you're using ice, be sure the insulin doesn't freeze. Keep your insulin away from direct heat and direct sunlight. If you don't have access to your usual insulin brand, it's OK to use a different type or brand if recommended by medical personnel. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, insulin in vials or cartridges supplied by the manufacturer can be left unrefrigerated at a temperature between 59 degrees and 86 degrees for 28 days and continue to work. But an insulin product that has been altered for the purpose of dilution or by removal from the manufacturer's original vial should be discarded within two weeks.

Keep an emergency supplies kit

Before any disaster occurs, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology recommends people with diabetes pack an emergency supplies kit. It should include the following items:

  • A list of your medical conditions and surgery history.
  • Contact information for all of your doctors.
  • A letter from your doctor describing your most recent diabetes medication regimen.
  • Your most recent lab results.
  • If possible, a 30-day supply of all medications taken by mouth or injection.
  • Blood glucose testing supplies and two glucose meters with extra batteries.
  • A cooler for four refreezable gel packs, insulin and unused injectable medications to be added when you're ready to go.
  • Empty plastic bottles or sharps containers for syringes, needles and lancets.
  • Carbohydrates to treat hypoglycemic reactions.
  • A two-day supply of food and at least a three-day supply of water.
  • Pencil and notepad to record your blood sugar levels and any medical problems.
  • A basic first aid kit.

Reviewed 10/9/2023

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