Care for Diabetic Emergencies

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Diabetic Emergencies

Insulin is an important hormone that regulates the body’ blood sugar levels and when a person has insufficient levels of insulin it results in a condition known as diabetes. Diabetes results when the body’s sugar regulating system fails to stabilize the body’s glucose levels by either producing insufficient amounts of insulin or none at all. There are essentially two types of diabetes:

  1. Type I: People with this form of diabetes suffer from an intrinsic inability to produce insulin and require an external insulin source to allow glucose to be properly distributed into tissues and cells. People with type I diabetes are usually born with this condition and they need to supply themselves with insulin throughout their lifetime.
  2. Type II:  People with type II diabetes are not considered solely dependent on external insulin to stabilize glucose levels in their body. This type of diabetes primarily results in faulty diet and obesity wherein the body’s insulin levels cannot cope up with the overwhelming glucose levels in the body therefore oral form of diabetic medications are taken to help control blood sugar levels.

The body is continuously balancing glucose and insulin levels throughout one’s lifetime. Too much level of glucose levels and not enough insulin may lead to a condition known as hyperglycemia. On the other hand too much insulin and not enough glucose leads to a much dangerous and life threatening condition known as hypoglycemia.

 Recognizing Low Blood Glucose Levels (Hypoglycemia)

 A very low blood sugar level can be caused by too much insulin present in the blood stream, delayed food intake, extraneous physical activity, underlying medical condition or any combination of the aforementioned factors. A person experiencing hypoglycemia will normally exhibit the following symptoms:

  1. Staggering and poor coordination
  2. Sudden change of temperament (bad temper)
  3. Pale skin
  4. Sudden hunger
  5. Confusion and disorientation
  6. Excessive sweating
  7. Trembling and seizure
  8. Unresponsiveness

Care for Hypoglycemia

To care for a diabetic victim with hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) who is responsive and able to swallow:

  1. Give simple sugar such as one tablespoon, half a can of soda or a glass of orange juice.
  2. If victim is unconscious, do not give anything by mouth and monitor for signs of seizures.
  3. Monitor for improvement in symptoms and if the condition worsens contact emergency medical service.

Recognizing High Blood Glucose (Hyperglycemia)

Hyperglycemia is the opposite of hypoglycemia wherein the blood is saturated with glucose but is unable to penetrate the cells due to a lack of insulin to transport glucose molecules across the blood stream. This condition may be a result of overeating, inactivity, illness, stress, or a lack of insulin.

In a person with diabetes, there may be no initial signs of high blood glucose since symptoms normally are less serious than hypoglycemia. Signs of high blood sugar normally include:

  1. Gradual onset of symptoms
  2. Extreme thirst
  3. Drowsiness
  4. Vomiting
  5. Warm and dry skin
  6. Vomiting
  7. Rapid breath
  8. Fruity, sweet breath odor
  9. Unresponsiveness

Care for Hyperglycemia

To care for a person with hyperglycemia (high blood glucose):

  1. If you are not sure whether the victim is suffering from high or low blood glucose level, provide the basic care as you would do for diabetics suffering from hypoglycemia.
  2. If the victim’s condition worsens and does not improve despite first aid care, seek medical care immediately.   


Alton, T. et al (2012). First Aid, CPR and AED Standard 6th Ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning

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