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Uncontrolled Diabetes Can Present With Flu-Like Symptoms, Experts Explain The Cause Behind It

Suffering from diabetes can lead to symptoms that resemble a flu, but there is more to it than meets the eye. Here’s what you need to know

Tenzin Chodon
Written by: Tenzin ChodonUpdated at: May 06, 2023 20:30 IST
Uncontrolled Diabetes Can Present With Flu-Like Symptoms, Experts Explain The Cause Behind It

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Diabetes is a chronic health condition associated with increased blood sugar levels in the body. About 42.2 crore people around the world have diabetes, of which, 10.5 lakh people 'directly' succumb to the disease each year, reports the World Health Organization (WHO). Some of the most common symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, thirst, unexplained weight loss and blurry vision. However, did you know uncontrolled diabetes can cause flu-like symptoms? We spoke with two leading experts to get some answers.

Also Read: Keto Flu: Causes, How To Overcome It And Other Side Effects

Diabetes And Flu-Like Symptoms

According to Dr Parth Patel, Consultant Critical Care Medicine Specialist, HCG Hospitals Ahmedabad, diabetes itself doesn't cause flu-like symptoms. Rather, it can be an outcome of diabetes-related complications. 

Diabetes occurs when the blood sugar levels in your body are too high. Your body's main source of energy is glucose, which is derived from the foods you eat. A diabetic patient's body either does not respond to insulin well or the pancreas does not make enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps the blood sugar to enter cells to produce energy. Having low amounts of insulin therefore leads to raised blood sugar levels. 

Therefore, with low insulin levels, one’s body cannot effectively use the glucose for energy, instead has to use ketones, a type of chemical that your liver produces when it breaks down fat, making your body too acidic and leading to Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). Often people who have reached this stage of diabetes experience flu-like symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. 

Dr Anusha Nadig, Associate Consultant - Endocrinology, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore, said, “Uncontrolled diabetes can present with flu-like symptoms such as chills, headache, fatigue, and body aches. Increased blood glucose can allow infections to grow, leading to Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS) and Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be dangerous.”

What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)?

DKA and HHS are the two most serious acute complications of diabetes. 

Dr Nadig said, “DKA is more common in Type 1 diabetes mellitus, but people with type 2 diabetes can also develop it. Most common causes include infections, stoppage of medicine, or stressful events. Usually, it presents with increased urination and thirst, weight loss, fast and deep breathing, generalised weakness, stomach pain, and vomiting.” 

In addition, the doctor stated  that it sometimes is the first sign in patients who haven't yet been diagnosed. 

What Is Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS)?

HHS is more common in Type 2 diabetes mellitus and is associated with high blood sugar and severe dehydration. “Some factors that may cause HHS include infections, heart attacks or strokes, decreased water intake, increased loss of fluids, and stopping or running out of diabetic medications, much similar to the causes of DKA. It can present with increased urination and thirst, weakness, weight loss, disorientation, and decreasing sensorium,” added Dr Nadig.

Also Read: Diabetes Kidney: Expert Lists 5 Signs That You Should Not Ignore

How To Prevent Complications?

Dr Nadig said, “If you are diabetic and have flu-like symptoms, you should check your blood sugar and blood or urine ketones. This can help differentiate between uncontrolled diabetes and a normal flu. It is essential to prevent these life-threatening complications.”

The doctor further recommended checking your blood sugar often, especially when you are sick. He advised to take medications on time as prescribed, even if one feels fine, hydrate yourself properly, especially in the summer. 

Dr Patel recommended following the doctor's orders and sticking to the diet chart provided as it centres around optimal sugar control.