WHILE our bodies normally maintain a balanced blood sugar level on their own, diabetics have to try to manage their blood sugar level themselves through diet, medication and regularly monitoring their blood sugar level.
Depending on how severe it is diabetes may be treated with diet alone or additionally with tablets or insulin injections. A person with diabetes must follow a diet recommended by a dietician and/or health care provider, with limited sugar and fats. The timing of meals and snacks relative to exercise and medication is important as well.
Untreated or poorly managed diabetes can lead to a number of complications, including heart disease, nerve damage, blindness, kidney failure and even amputations. The risk of death is also relatively high.
Managing one’s blood sugar level is not always easy. If the balance is not right and the blood sugar level is too high or too low, a diabetic emergency may occur.
Often the diabetic person may recognise from the way he or she feels that the blood sugar level is not right and be able to take remedial action or ask for assistance. However, this is not always the case. If the person becomes seriously unwell and maybe even unresponsive, others need to assist.
Knowing what to do in a diabetic emergency may enable you to render appropriate assistance and even save a life.
Signs and symptoms
A diabetic emergency occurs when blood glucose levels fluctuate outside the normal range, resulting in either too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycaemia) or too little sugar in the blood (hypoglycaemia). This usually happens when food intake, exercise and medication are not in balance with each other. The signs and symptoms of a diabetic emergency vary.
Common ones include hunger, sweating profusely, clammy skin, weakness or feeling faint, changes in behaviour such as confusion, irritability or aggression and a change in level of responsiveness.
You may also notice rapid breathing, skin that is paler than normal, appearance of intoxication such as slurred speech, difficulty walking, feeling or looking ill and sometimes seizures.
If you know that the person is diabetic, then these signs and symptoms are likely to indicate to you a possible diabetic emergency. If you do not know the person, you may look to see if there is a bracelet or necklace being worn that indicates he or she is diabetic. Not all diabetics have these but some do. They may also be carrying an insulin pen, glucose sweets or a glucometer for monitoring their blood sugar level.
What to do
A diabetic emergency could be because the blood sugar level is too low (hypoglycaemia), which could result in the person collapsing or going into a diabetic coma. This is the most likely cause of a diabetic emergency. Hyperglycaemia, which is when the blood sugar level becomes too high, can also cause an emergency.
Hypoglycaemia usually happens because the person has skipped a meal or exercised too much. If the diabetic emergency is not attended to quickly it can become serious.
Giving the person something sugary will help raise their blood sugar levels and improve their condition. This could be two or three sweets, two or three spoons of sugar, a fizzy drink (not a low sugar drink but the normal type), fruit juice or some other sugary food or drink.
It is important for this to be done quickly. It will normally gradually revive the person fairly quickly. Offer reassurance that he or she will be okay.
It is not always easy to tell if the person is feeling unwell as a result of low blood sugar or high blood sugar. However, because low blood sugar is the commonest reason, giving him or her something sweet is normally the best thing to do. It is unlikely to do any harm.
Reassure the person that she or he will be okay. Most people will gradually improve once given something sugary.
If you are unable to give the person something sugary or the person is not fully awake, has a seizure or his or her condition does not improve within 10 minutes of having been given something sweet, call for emergency medical assistance. Be sure to let the emergency personnel know the person has diabetes, if you know this to be the case.
Good day-to-day control of diabetes can help prevent complications. If you are living with a diabetic person consider helping him or her in the day-to-day management of this illness. Such support can be helpful, particularly if it is your spouse who has diabetes.
If you are the person with diabetes, make sure your spouse, if you have one, knows about diabetes and your diabetes management plan, as well as what medication you take and what to do in a diabetic emergency.
Be sure to strictly follow your meal plan. Consistent snacks and meals can help control your blood sugar levels.
Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels. Frequent blood sugar tests can tell you whether you are keeping your blood sugar level within the target range and alert you to dangerous highs or lows.
Check more frequently if you have exercised because exercise can cause blood sugar levels to drop even hours later, especially if you do not exercise regularly.
Take your medication as directed. If you have frequent episodes of high or low blood sugar, let your doctor know. The doctor may need to adjust the dose or the timing of your medication.
Illness can cause an unexpected change in blood sugar. If you are sick and unable to eat, your blood sugar may drop. Talk with your doctor about how best to manage your blood sugar levels when you are unwell.
Make sure you obtain further supplies of your diabetic medication well before your current supplies run out. If you are spending the day away from home, make sure you carry your medication with you. Always have a few glucose sweets with you for use in an emergency.
Wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace. If you are unconscious, the ID can provide valuable information to others, including emergency personnel, and ensure you get the help you need promptly.
The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — email@example.com or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663.