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What to Do When Faced with a Diabetic Emergency

December 08, 2020
Individuals with diabetes are strongly encouraged to maintain their blood sugar level within the healthy range; however, this is not always possible. When sugar levels are poorly controlled, it may lead to long term complications. And triggers can result in hypoglycemia (blood sugar is too low) or hyperglycemia (blood sugar is too high), which if not addressed may become life threatening. With the number of individuals diagnosed with diabetes continuing to rise, general knowledge on this disease could help you identify when someone needs emergency medical attention.  


Triggers can include:

  • Infection i.e. the urinary tract, respiratory tract or the skin
  • Poor diet i.e. not balancing carbohydrates properly, overeating simple sugars or drinking alcohol
  • Too much or too little oral or injected medication, or defective medication as a result of poor storage
  • Gestational diabetes (diabetes develops during pregnancy)
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Too much or not enough exercise


Hypoglycemia: What it is and what you can do

Hypoglycemia is defined as a blood sugar level that is below 70 mg/dL.
An individual with diabetes experiencing hypoglycemia may experience symptoms that include: hunger, hand tremors, sweating, pale skin, an irregular heartbeat, an increased heart rate, headache, dizziness, blurred or double vision, anxiety, and behavioral changes. And if not addressed this can progress to seizures or a loss of consciousness. However, before this can happen go through the following steps:
  • Individual experiencing hypoglycemia need to increase their blood sugar level fast. This can be done by eating or drinking fast-acting carbohydrates; for example, half a glass to a glass of fruit juice, soft drinks, a teaspoon of sugar dissolved in 100 mL of water, or 2-3 small candies
  • Do a finger prick blood test to measure the blood sugar level if the individual carries a glucometer on their person. Recheck 15 minutes after consuming a fast-acting carb. If the blood sugar level is between 70-100 mg/dL, the individual should consume one portion of a complex carbohydrate such as a medium sized fruit, a slice of bread, or a small pack of crackers

When to seek emergency medical attention
  • If clouding of consciousness (brain fog) occurs
  • If a seizure occurs, which may be localized (one area of the body) or generalized (the whole body)
  • If the person becomes unconscious, place them on their side. While waiting for emergency services, try placing a small amount of honey or syrup on the inside of their cheeks but DO NOT force feed them.
 

Hyperglycemia: What it is and what you can do

Hyperglycemia is defined as a blood sugar level that exceeds 250 mg/dL.
An individual with diabetes experiencing hyperglycemia may experience symptoms that include: increased thirst, frequent urination (especially during the nighttime), fatigue, shortness of breath, and blurred vision. And if not addressed there is a possibility of entering into a coma. However, before this can happen go through the following steps:
  • Drink plenty of water (unless instructed by a doctors otherwise)
  • Do a finger prick blood test to measure the blood sugar level if the individual carries a glucometer on their person and report the result to the individuals doctor
  • Search for the causes of the high blood sugar such as those mentioned above
When to seek emergency medical attention
  • If clouding of consciousness (brain fog) occurs
  • If a seizure occurs, which may be localized (one area of the body) or generalized (the whole body)
 

Tips for People Diagnosed with Diabetes

Inform family members, friends, and colleagues that you are diabetic, as well as provide information regarding what they can do should you have a diabetic emergency.
Carry your diabetic patient ID card on you at all times. Have your glucose monitoring kit (glucometer) with you to check your blood sugar level when you suspect it may be outside the normal range. If it is you can take corrective action. And most importantly, keep your medical team’s contact information with you at all times.
 


By the Endocrinology, Diabetes, & Clinical Nutrition Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital  
 

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