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Diabetes Emergencies

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) are both considered diabetic emergencies; thus, requiring prompt treatment to avoid complications. Knowledge of these conditions, by diabetic persons, their care takers and the general public is important, as many symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions. Delay in proper timely treatment can have devastating effects.

Hypoglycemia is defined as a blood sugar level below 70mg/dl (although some people feel fine with blood sugar levels in this range). Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia can include any of the following: staggering or poor coordination, irritability, combative behavior, slurred speech, confusion, hunger, excessive sweating. Untreated hypoglycemia can lead to unconsciousness and seizures. Causes of hypoglycemia may include too much diabetic medication, missed meals, alcohol, and excessive physical activity.

Hyperglycemia is defined as a high blood sugar level. The actual blood sugar level is usually elevated into the “high hundreds”. Some diabetics have experienced a blood sugar level higher than 600mg/dl. Signs and symptoms can include any of the following: drowsiness, confusion, extreme thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting. Very high blood sugar can be caused by a lack of insulin, illness, dehydration, a heart attack or stroke and other medical conditions.

Prompt treatment for both conditions is required. Hypoglycemia should be treated with glucose tablets or oral drink, such as fruit juice. Oral food and fluids should be held if the person is unable to swallow, follow commands, appears confused (so as to reduce the risk of choking/aspiration). Hyperglycemia should be confirmed (by checking the actual blood sugar level) and the diabetic person should be given their insulin. They should also be seen by a medical provider, so as to ascertain the cause of the hyperglycemia.

Open communication with family and friends, as well as coworkers, is the best way to reduce the risk of complications. Persons aware of your medical condition are in a better position to assist in case of a medical emergency. It is also advisable to wear some type of medical alert item and have pertinent information on your medical condition in your wallet (next to your driver’s license). Stay safe and have a great new year!