Diabetes in the Cold


I’ve never had so much to say about the weather. For a good part of January, we experienced something of a polar freeze here in New York.  

The air was frigid and the snow fell. It took me back to my childhood. My siblings and I would dress in plush neon snowsuits and rush outside to build forts and snowmen. We’d shovel the driveway for fun, and then have snowball fights. As kids we never complained of the cold. We didn’t seem to notice. We were too busy taking in the wonderful possibilities that the snow presented. After a while, someone (me) would inevitably get hit in the face with a snowball and my mom would call us in. “It’s enough!” she’d shout. We’d run inside red-faced and slide off our boots. Hot chocolate and cartoons awaited us.

Now that I’m older, the cold weather isn’t as appealing. The snow is still pretty, but I enjoy it better from the inside of my living room window. And I certainly feel the cold air, especially with recent temperature readings in the teens and lower.

When the temperature was well below freezing, I dressed myself and Maya in multiple layers. Poor Maya was so bundled up; it was hard to find her. As for me, I’m still wearing the down jacket that I sported when I was pregnant last winter. The belly area is stretched and welcomes my layers.

Some days were frigid enough to make my fingertips feel frozen. Even after coming in from the cold, it took time to warm up… which was bad news for people with diabetes who have to prick their fingers. My lancing device worked doubly hard. One prick didn’t always elicit blood from my cold fingers. It often took two or even three pricks. I found myself squeezing my fingers pre-prick in order to help the blood flow down – the way I was taught to do in the hospital after I was diagnosed.

I also noticed substantial and unexplained spikes in my blood sugars after being out in the cold. One morning, I woke up and tested my blood sugar. The reading on my meter read 110. A great way to start the day. Then I looked at the weather on my phone. Not as great: 14 degrees.

By the time I got to work, my blood sugar had jumped to 276!

I felt frustrated and angry (and thirsty). I blamed the frosty weather because I couldn’t think of any other explanation. And it wasn’t the first time it had happened. In the past month, I’ve had similar blood sugar spikes after being outside in the extreme cold.

I wonder if there’s any science behind cold-weather-induced hyperglycemia. Maybe there’s a threshold – a temperature that’s cold enough to cause stress on our bodies. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a link because generally, I require more insulin in the winter. I also typically gain a few pounds, not unlike a bear preparing to hibernate.

For now, I am just trying to test as often as I can, anticipate probable highs, and correct as quickly as possible. I suppose this is something to discuss at my next visit with my endocrinologist.

I am glad to report that February has gotten off to a warmer start. We’ve already had some snow, and it’s cold – but normal cold. 36 degrees is fine by me. I’m keeping warm and making the most of my predictable blood sugars… until the freeze returns.

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