Prep Your Health: How to Manage Diabetes in an Emergency

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A woman tests her blood sugar using a blood glucose meter.

November is National Diabetes Month

About 34.2 million Americans live with diabetes, meaning their bodies don’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin they make to turn food into energy. In either case, the result is too much sugar in the bloodstream. Over time, this can cause serious health problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.(1)

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant).(1)

There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can help. Taking medicine as needed, getting diabetes self-management education and support, and keeping healthcare appointments can also reduce the impact of diabetes on your life.(1)

Emergency Preparedness

The everyday self-management of diabetes can be challenging, but it is doable with support from your healthcare team, family, teachers, and others, along with education, self-care, and personal preparedness. Self-managing diabetes during a disaster or emergency is more difficult but not impossible if you are prepared.

Emergencies and disasters can have widespread and long-lasting impacts on the availability of medical supplies, medications, and services. For all these reasons, it is important that you prepare your health by having an emergency supplies kit.

Gather Your Personal Needs

Personal needs are items that you cannot do without in an emergency, starting with the basics of food and water.

Because hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can happen quickly and must be treated immediately, people with type 1 diabetes are encouraged to keep items that contain sugar (e.g., glucose tablets, juice boxes, honey, hard candy) with them at all times, including during an emergency.

Hypoglycemia is most often caused by too much insulin, waiting too long for a meal or snack, not eating enough, or getting extra physical activity. Hypoglycemia symptoms are different from person to person but can include shakiness, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, blurred vision, sweating, and weakness or fatigue.(2)

Prepare Your Prescriptions

Managing blood sugar levels and making sure your body gets enough energy can be tough during an emergency. Be prepared in case supplies and medicines are hard to get and to store.Having type 2 diabetes increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Based on what we know at this time, having type 1 or gestational diabetes may increase your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

  • Contact your doctor or pharmacist to talk about creating an emergency supply of prescription medications. Some states have emergency prescription laws that may allow pharmacists to dispense insulin in emergency situations.
  • During an emergency, you may need to use a different insulin brand or type instead of your regular insulin. You should work with your doctor if you need to switch insulin brands or types, but that might not be possible in crisis conditions. In that case, follow this emergency guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), monitor your blood sugar closely, and contact your doctor as soon as possible.(3)
  • Invest in a cooler and reusable cold packs to help keep medicines cold. Try to keep your insulin as cool as possible, but make sure not to freeze it. Insulin that has been frozen can break down and will be less effective.(3)
  • If you use an insulin pump, you may be able to substitute another short-acting insulin for your usual insulin (see FDA’s emergency guidance). Check the instructions for your pump to see which insulin types will work. The FDA guidance also explains which insulin types you can use instead of your usual insulin if you need to switch from using your pump to using injectable insulin (taken with a needle).(3)

Store Medical & First Aid Supplies

Having an emergency supplies kit with medical and first aid supplies can be vital during an emergency when you might not be able to go out and buy more.

  • Call a diabetes educator to get support and guidance on how to buy diabetes supplies, including single-patient-use insulin pens and syringes, and store them properly.
  • People with diabetes are more vulnerable to infections. Pay careful attention to the health of your feet and keep a fully stocked first aid kit ready to treat any wounds.
  • Have extra supplies for your insulin pump or continuous glucose monitor, supplies to check your blood sugar (i.e., testing strips, lancets), and extra batteries for your devices.

Making sure you have an emergency supplies kit ready with supplies can seem daunting, but a little prep can help lessen the stress during an emergency.




Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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11 comments on “Prep Your Health: How to Manage Diabetes in an Emergency”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    This post help full to manage our diabetes ignorance level and unhealthy food life style. In many country people are not accepted they gone through diabetes in-heritate.

    Great !thanks for sharing this type of blogs very informative and knowledgeable. I really got to know new thing how we manage diabetes in emergency, it is very helpful.

    very nice sharing awesome one keep posting really appreciated really amazing one i really admired

    This is a great list for emergency preparedness. I appreciate the knowledge that insulin may be given out in an emergency situation. As the mother of a type 1 diabetic (11 y.o.), I always try to have an extra insulin pump and dexcom on hand in case of emergencies. She carries a small backpack purse with all her supplies including her glucagon pen, small snack or juice, glucose tabs, and her glucose meter even though she has a dexcom. Technology is great but when it fails in a situation like diabetes, it can be life threatening. As a nurse, I have seen patients and my daughter go into diabetic ketoacidosis. It is not a site to see and can be scary. Being extra prepared for when supplies may not be available is crucial in a diagnosis such as diabetes. Thank You

    It definitely is harder to manage diabetes during emergencies but it is important to do so too, a great blog!

    This post was very informative! My mother was recently diagnosed with diabetes type 2. Currently, it is controlled by oral medication, diet, and exercise. Being newly diagnosed was very stressful for her, but she could balance her new reality with education on the disease and nutrition courses. Your post provided us with more knowledge on what to do in emergencies. I will make sure she has a medical and first aid supply fit available. Having sugar readily available is very important. One of my mother’s goals was to get rid of sugar entirely because she thought that consuming sugar was the cause of her diabetes. However, with education, she now knows about the importance of sugar or items containing sugar in the event of hypoglycemia. Thank you for your post.

    This is a very informative article. As a nurse, I think that patient education is such an important component of patient care. Education on the proper preparation for diabetes management in the wake of a disaster is essential in limiting the burden of emergency response on disaster workers. While we cannot prepare for every possible scenario, one can take into account their location in their preparations. For example, those living along the southeastern coast should be prepared to evacuate due to a hurricane while Californians should be more prepared for wildfires and earthquakes. I particularly was very interested in the discussion of various types of insulin and insulin delivery. I had wondered how a person who typically uses an insulin pen would know how to properly dose insulin with a syringe, and this blog provided excellent resources.

    From a nurses perspective, this is a great blog to help other be prepared to manager their diabetes in case of an emergency. With how many americans suffer from this disease, it is important to gather supplies when disaser strikes. Including basic needs such as food and water, you should have your medications on hand as well. This is great in teaching individuals who suffer with diabetes to make emergency kits for diabetes including their medication and teaching how to properly store it!

    This is a great, informative post for all of those who are newly diagnosed diabetics or know a newly diagnosed diabetic. Coming from a nurse who worked on a diabetic unit in the hospital, I can’t count how many times I have handed out juice cups and crackers to patients who were experiencing hypoglycemia. They would all of a sudden get very lightheaded and shaky because their blood sugar was too low. 15 minutes after having them drink the juice and eat the crackers we would recheck to make sure the level was back within normal limits. No matter where a diabetic is going, its always good to have sugary/carb loaded snack on hand in case of emergency!

    This is such important information. Nursing is about educating our patients and making sure they have the right information and resources to manage their diseases and medications. Diabetes and insulin can be tricky for non medical professionals to learn, so this article really broke in down in easy to digest material. Diabetes can become an emergent situation quickly if the right prevention and monitoring does not happen. Knowing how to use an insulin pen properly is important so the individual can manage the situation quickly and the contact EMS.

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Page last reviewed: November 13, 2020
Page last updated: November 13, 2020