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Summer heat may mean trouble for diabetics

June 21, 2010 |  4:14 pm

Now that summer is officially here, it's a good time to talk about diabetes and hot weather. High heat and humidity can do a number on diabetics, affecting perspiration, medication and supplies. But not everyone who has diabetes is aware of how weather might affect them, according to a new survey.

L3gkf7nc Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, obtained 152 surveys from patients at a Phoenix diabetes clinic. One in 5 patients said they would not take any preventative measures until it was more than 100 degrees -- but that may be too late.

Dr. Adrienne Nassar, Mayo Clinic medical resident and lead author of the study, said in a news release, "People with diabetes have an impaired ability to sweat, which predisposes them to heat-related illness, as do uncontrolled, high blood sugars." She added: "Heat illness can take place at 80 to 90 degrees when you factor in the heat index."

Only about half of the patients surveyed understood the heat index, which is the air temperature plus the relative humidity. The two combined is how we perceive how hot it is. Also, the higher the humidity, the less perspiration evaporates.

Diabetics may not have a normal ability to sweat, Nassar said. "Many patients surveyed had suboptimal glycemic control during the summer, possibly increasing their risk of dehydration."

Some diabetes medication (such as insulin) and supplies may also be affected by high heat, but not all survey respondents knew the best way to care for them. Of those who knew that diabetes medication and glucose testing tools such as meters and test strips should be kept from heat, more than a third left them at home rather than taking the medications with them.

That, Nassar said, might be dangerous if blood sugar levels can't be checked away from home. The survey results were presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society this week in San Diego.

The Mayo Clinic's website offers more tips and information for diabetics dealing with high temperatures.

-- Jeannine Stein

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Photo credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times