Employee & Community Health

Maintaining your health during Ramadan fasting

5/7/2018 by Dr. Muhamad Elrashidi

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Fasting during Ramadan involves abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset. Depending on geography and the time of year when Ramadan occurs, fasting may range from 10 hours in the winter months to more than 17 hours in the summer. For most individuals, this daily fast should not have a negative effect on your health. Even if you have a chronic condition, including coronary artery disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, you can fast safely if your condition is well managed and uncomplicated. 

However, anyone with a chronic health condition who chooses to fast — especially if you have complications or take medication to manage it — should take time to plan and prepare in order to avoid experiencing problems or worsening of your condition. Because fasting is not intended to cause harm, it's important to consider consulting your health care providers before Ramadan — or any time you plan to fast — to plan how best to maintain good health or determine whether fasting is safe for you. Some questions to ask include: 

  • Is fasting safe based on my health conditions? 
  • How is it best to take my medications? 
  • Could medications taken multiple times a day be changed to once-a-day dosing? 
  • Should I check blood glucose ("sugar") levels more frequently or change my insulin or other medication dosing? 

Taking medications

Medications taken by mouth or intravenous feeding are considered to break your fast. As a result, if it is safe to do so, these types of medications should be given or administered before dawn or after sunset if you choose to fast. 

However, Islamic scholars generally recognize that other medications do not break the fast and may be taken during hours of fasting. These include medicated skin patches or creams, eye/ear drops, injections given in the skin or muscle (including insulin), supplemental oxygen or mouthwash or gargles that are not swallowed. In addition, many scholars also hold that nasal sprays and inhalers do not break your fast. 

For those planning to fast, it's recommended you drink plenty of liquids during non-fasting hours and limit caffeinated or highly sugared beverages. It's also recommended you avoid or limit highly processed food or those high in fat and eat healthy, balanced meals with moderate proportion sizes. 

Individuals with health conditions and concerns are encouraged to consult with your primary care physician, other providers or pharmacists to ensure you remain in the best possible health during Ramadan. Other helpful resources are: 

Dr. Muhamad Elrashidi is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's Community Internal Medicine (CIM) and an assistant professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. He is the community internal medicine section head for Southeast Minnesota and a Kern Center Population Health Scholar with a focus on high-value, integrated care delivery models.