4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes

Cold hands could be a bigger problem than you think.

Medically reviewed in February 2021

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Between frigid weather and the frenetic holiday season, it can be tough to control blood sugar and manage your diabetes in the winter.

High blood sugar can trick you into thinking you are warm even when you’re exposed to cold weather. "You go outside and you feel warmer than what your body temperature actually is. That can lead to damaged nerves," says Carole Radney, director of the Diabetes Management Center at Coliseum Medical Center.

Winter can also affect other aspects of your diabetes care. Get to know what can change during this season so you're prepared to maintain good health. "With diabetes it's always about having a plan," Radney says.

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Your Blood Sugar Tests

The problem: If your hands are cold because of chilly weather, it can be hard to do a finger prick.

"People with diabetes don't want to monitor as much in the wintertime. It hurts their fingers because they can't get good blood flow," Radney says. Also, blood glucose monitors and strips can be less reliable in the cold and give you incorrect numbers.

The solution: Don’t cut back on testing your blood sugar in the winter. Heat up your hands before pricking your finger by running them under warm water or putting them near a heater. Keep your testing supplies indoors and warm them up before using them.

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Your Fitness Routine

The problem: Finding the motivation to exercise is tough when temperatures drop, especially if you typically run or walk outdoors.

The solution: Work out indoors. You can march in front of your television, pop in an exercise video or climb the stairs. Or, work up a sweat at an indoor mall or the gym. If you must brave the cold, wear warm layers in synthetic fabrics that will wick moisture away from your body.

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Your Health

The problem: Battling a cold or the flu can make it hard to take care of yourself and control your diabetes. When you are sick, your blood sugar levels may rise and you might not even notice.

The solution: Dodge the flu by getting the annual vaccine and washing your hands often. If you do get sick, be sure to frequently check your blood sugar levels and have a sick-day plan.

"You don't want to be getting up to go to the store to get the things you need," Radney says. "You want to make sure you have medicine, food and drinks that are appropriate so that you don't end up at the hospital because your sugars have gone so high."

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Your Wardrobe

The problem: Diabetes can lead to a loss of feeling in your fingers, toes and limbs, which can make it difficult to tell if they're cold or injured.

The solution: If you're going out in the cold, try to limit the amount of skin that's exposed. Wear mittens, a scarf and thick socks. Choose shoes that will really keep your feet warm and will keep moisture out.

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