Learning to recognize and treat diabetic shock symptoms can keep you and your loved ones safe.
Though the terms we use to talk about diabetes emergencies have changed over time, the signs and treatments have remained the same. Recognizing both high blood sugar and diabetic shock symptoms is an important part of being prepared for any situation.
The quick blood sugar overview is this: most adults with diabetes who are not pregnant usually work to keep their blood sugar within the American Diabetes Association's recommended range of 80 to 130 mg/dL, but these numbers may vary by individual. Anything below 80 mg/dL is considered low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, and anything below 60 mg/dL is generally considered severe hypoglycemia. On the other end of the spectrum, anything above 130 mg/dL pre-meal or anything over 180 mg/dL two hours post-meal is considered high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia.
Monitoring and maintaining in-range blood sugars can be a big job, and even the best-laid plans can result in high or low blood sugars. If you or your loved one, or even a co-worker or stranger, is experiencing a blood sugar-related emergency, you need to know the signs, symptoms, and what you can do to help.
Signs of High Blood Sugar, and How to Help
Symptoms of high blood sugar include:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Blurred vision
Generally speaking, a briefly high blood sugar is something that a person with diabetes can detect, correct, and work through—hopefully without assistance from others. Extreme and sustained high blood sugars can be dangerous, and medical intervention may be required if the person can't bring their blood sugar down.
If you suspect that someone is experiencing high blood sugar, calmly ask them if they have checked their glucose recently, if there's anything you can do, or if they'd like you to call their clinician.
Signs of Low Blood Sugar, and How to Help
Low blood sugar, also known as insulin shock, can happen quickly, and the danger it poses is immediate. Symptoms of low blood sugar may include:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sweating, chills, or clamminess
- Irritability or impatience
- Dizziness and difficulty concentrating
- Hunger or nausea
- Blurred vision
- Weakness or fatigue
- Anger, stubbornness, or sadness
A person with low blood sugar sometimes appears confused or even drunk, and immediate intervention may be necessary. In some instances, the person with diabetes will be able to treat their low blood sugar on their own, but if they pass out, are difficult to control, or can't be persuaded to eat something sugary, call 911 immediately.
The best treatment for low blood sugar is to have the person eat something sweet. Joslin Diabetes Center recommends following the 15-15 rule: eat fifteen grams of carbohydrates, retest your blood glucose after fifteen minutes, then repeat these steps if necessary until your levels are in a safe range. Fifteen grams of carbohydrates is about four ounces of fruit juice, three glucose tablets, or five to six ounces of regular soda. For small kids, rubbing cake gel or honey on the insides of their cheeks is a quick solution that can come in handy if your child is nauseous or refusing to eat. Keep foods you can use to treat low blood sugar in your car, bag, or at your desk so you're prepared if a friend or loved one needs a hand. If the person has passed out, call 911 immediately so a professional can administer glucagon. As a precaution, if you have diabetes, those around you, such as your family members, significant others, and coworkers, should also be instructed on how to administer glucagon to treat severe hypoglycemic events.
It can be unnerving to see someone in diabetic shock. Symptoms are scary, and if it happens to someone close to you, naturally you'll be worried. Knowing what to look for and how to help can make all the difference for your loved one and for your peace of mind.
By Kerri Sparling
Kerri Sparling has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1986, when she was diagnosed at the age of seven. She is an internationally recognized diabetes advocate. Kerri is the creator and author of Six Until Me, which she established in 2005 and which remains one of the most widely-read diabetes patient blogs, reaching a global audience of patients, caregivers, and others in the industry. She has been featured on NPR, US News and World Report, CBNC, Yahoo! Health, LA Times, and The Lancet, among other national outlets.
Centers for Disease Control, Type 1 Diabetes
Diabetes.org, Checking Your Blood Glucose
National Center for Biotechnology Information, Glucagon (By Injection)
Mayo Clinic, Hyperglycemia in Diabetes
Yale School of Medicine, Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
Joslin Diabetes Center, How To Treat A Low Blood Glucose
American Diabetes Association, Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose)