As the new Hajj season approaches, we sat down with Dr. Abdulla Al Hamaq, Executive Director of Qatar Diabetes Association in Qatar Foundation, to talk about performing Hajj with diabetes and what people need to do to have a comfortable experience.
What is Diabetes?
It is a medical condition caused by genetic and environmental factors. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce insulin, or when that insulin is not working efficiently. This leads to high levels of blood glucose, and complications such as loss of vision.
What is your advice to people with diabetes performing Hajj?
If a diabetic patient intends to go to Hajj, they should consult their doctor first to understand all that they need to know to perform Hajj safely. We advise the following:
- Maintain normal blood sugar levels.
- Consume a healthy diet as prescribed, that contains all the key nutrients needed for your body.
- Take good care of your feet and maintain cleanliness. Monitor any changes on your feet and protect them from injury by wearing socks and comfortable shoes. Prevention is the best cure. Do not walk barefoot to avoid injury. If you notice any wounds or swelling consult a doctor immediately.
- Increase your water consumption. This is necessary because diabetic patients are more prone to dehydration.
- Take care of your teeth and gums, always use a toothbrush and toothpaste and carry these with you.
- Bring all the medication you will need for the whole stay, so that the rituals performed are not disrupted. Patients who take insulin need to know the dose they need to take and carry the insulin with them in a special insulated cold pack to avoid damaging it.
What should a diabetic do when they experience symptoms of low blood sugar during the performance of the Hajj rituals?
First off let’s talk about the symptoms of a drop in blood sugar levels. These are feelings of hunger, chills, rapid heart rate, sweating, feeling dizzy, mild drowsiness, lack of concentration, difficulty speaking. Sometimes fainting or spasms may occur.
As for how to prevent blood sugar levels from dropping during Hajj, it is recommended that you:
- Eat meals at regular times.
- Do not over-work your body when performing the rituals of Hajj and ensure that you perform them when it is cool, like at night for example. It is also recommended that you steer clear of overly crowded areas.
- Make sure you are taking correct insulin dosages before injecting, and take them on a regular basis.
- After consulting a doctor, you can reduce your daily dosage of medicine and insulin during Hajj.
- Always keep sweet food around during your performance of the Hajj rituals.
- If the person is conscious, then he must consume sugary juice or candy or take glucose tablets (these can be purchased from any pharmacy, and are also available for sale at the Qatar Diabetes Association).
- If the person is unconscious, he requires medical intervention. The family members or whoever is with them should take them to the nearest hospital or medical facility in the fastest time possible. We recommend you always have an identification card (ID) that identifies your illness and the treatment and dosage you take.
What if a diabetic experiences high blood sugar levels during Hajj?
Again, we must look at the symptoms, and they are feeling tired and thirsty, frequent urination, blurred vision, stomach pain, the smell of acetone from the mouth. In some cases, there are no symptoms at all. This proves the importance of checking blood sugar levels continuously during Hajj.
To treat high blood sugar levels:
- Drink lots of water. Avoid carbohydrates in meals. Do not put too much pressure on your body.
- Consult your doctor about amending the dose if your blood sugar levels continue to increase or decrease.
- Eat grilled or boiled food and avoid fried foods and food high in calories and low in nutrients like sweets and fast food. Eat more fiber-rich foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
Tell us about how to control high blood sugar levels during Hajj.
Diabetic patients can avoid and control high blood sugar level by doing the following:
- Regulate your diet and avoid or cut back on fatty food.
- Make sure that you look at the labels on insulin bottles and the expiration dates before use.
- Consult your doctor if you do not feel better or see any improvement.
Can you tell us how to safely store medicine during Hajj?
This is a very important question, a lot of people always ask about how to store their medicine while performing the Hajj rituals and here are some tips to ensure your medication is safely stored and can be used properly:
- If you take pills for medication, you can leave them in the tent with your belongings, there is no need to keep them in the fridge.
- Keep pills away from direct sunlight and heat.
- While travelling, insulin must be stored in its correct container and not mixed with other medication.
- Do not leave the insulin in front of a vehicle, as the motion and the heat can change the nature of the medication.
- Store the insulin in the fridge and not the freezer.
Can you share any other advice?
In addition to what was mentioned earlier, we emphasize the importance of continuous checks on blood sugar levels, especially after performing “tawaf” and “saai” and the throwing of “jamarat.”
We also recommend that all who wish to perform Hajj take the necessary vaccinations prior to travelling. We also advise avoiding direct sunlight to avoid getting heatstroke, and stress the importance of using white umbrellas when leaving the tents. Drinking plenty of water and wearing loose light clothes that are light colored, as well as washing your head and face regularly with water will also help.
Are there any special activities in the Qatar Diabetes Association for diabetic patients who are going to Hajj?
The Qatar Diabetes Association organizes a yearly program titled “Safe Hajj with Diabetes.” It starts well before the Hajj season begins, making it easier for those who wish to go to Hajj to perform the rituals in comfort and without worrying that their condition might stop them from performing Hajj completely. This ongoing yearly approach aims to educate and raise awareness about how to perform the rituals with diabetes. It is also a chance to brush up on information about diabetes and what to do when faced with high or low blood sugar levels. Patients are also taught how to take care of themselves before, after and during Hajj and consult medical staff about what to take with them, so that their Hajj can be done in the best way possible.
The program incudes two shifts on a course of 3 days, educating diabetic patients about performing Hajj properly and safely with their condition and allowing them to ask or seek advice about any concerns they might have. Leaflets are given to them about the same topic.
In conclusion, we wish all those who are going to Hajj to be safe and may Allah accept your prayers and bring you home safely.