Low Blood Sugar And Insulin Shock In Diabetics

Insulin shock, or diabetic coma, is the potentially fatal end result of the medical condition called hypoglycemia. Knowing its signs and treatment is essential.

Insulin shock, is the common name for an extreme form of the medical condition hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is the medical term for low blood sugar. An average person has a sugar reading of 80 to 120 (measured in milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood). Any

time a person's blood sugar level drops below that, they are considered hypoglycemic, or having low blood sugar. If the blood sugar level drops far enough, the person becomes unconscious, has seizures, or, if the episode lasts too long, can even die.

Although low blood sugar can occasionally happen to almost anyone, it is most commonly a problem of persons with diabetes. For a person who is managing his or her diabetes fairly well, low blood sugar should rarely be a problem. However, many factors can give even the most careful diabetic episodes of low blood sugar. Infections are one major cause of low blood sugar, since the body has to increase sugar use to fight the infection. A diabetic may accidentally take the wrong dose or type of insulin or other diabetes medication. Changes in diet, such as skipping a meal, vomiting up a meal, or not eating the right kinds of food, can also be a problem. Low blood sugar can also come from the diabetic getting more exercise than usual and not counterbalancing the energy used with some additional food. Even something as unlikely as weight loss or a woman's period can cause low blood sugar.

Finally, many medications can alter a diabetic's blood sugar level. Oral diabetes medications, which tend to last longer than insulin, can cause a problem. The generic drug glyburide is one of the most frequent culprits. Many other drugs can enhance the effects diabetes medications; one example is the generic drug warfarin, which is a common blood thinner. Beta blockers, such as metoprolol and atenolol, which are commonly used for heart conditions, may mask the earlier symptoms of low blood sugar.

Like most medical conditions, low blood sugar is easiest to treat when it is discovered early, before it has become true insulin shock. There isn't very much time, because low blood sugar usually develops fairly quickly, over the period of less than an hour to just a few minutes. Unfortunately, more than half of all episodes of low blood sugar occur at night, when the diabetic sleeps right through the early signs and symptoms. In this case, the problem is only discovered in the morning, when someone else in the household finds that they can't wake up the diabetic. If this should happen, this is a life-threatening emergency. DO NOT HESITATE--CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.

In the daytime, however, low blood sugar can usually be caught. In the earliest stages, the diabetic will feel unusually hungry. He or she may drool, or complain of dizziness and a headache. The diabetic's heart rate will go up, which may be felt as chest pain or palpitations.

During this time, low blood sugar can be corrected very quickly by use of oral sugar in any form. Diabetics should always carry some form of sugar on them. Any type of hard candy (NOT the sugarless kind!) works well and is, of course, most pleasant. Honey or pure sugar work just as well, and actually work best when they are dissolved in the mouth, because the sugar can cross directly through the gums into the bloodstream. Sugary drinks such as fruit juice can also work, especially with sugar stirred into them. There are also commercially-prepared tubes of sugar-loaded gel, specially designed for the emergency treatment of low blood sugar, but these do not work any better or worse than the other methods.

As the diabetic's blood sugar level drops lower, the organ most affected by the change is the brain, which consumes more of the body's blood and food supply than any other organ. As the brain's functions begin to decrease, the diabetic will become weak. His or her skin may become pale, cool, and clammy. The person may also become abnormally aggressive or uncooperative, could have slurred speech, and could easily be mistaken for being drunk or on drugs. If this is the case, a form of sugar by mouth can still help, but getting the diabetic to take the sugar might be the hard part. If there is any doubt, call 911.

Once the person's blood sugar drops to a certain level, he or she will fall unconscious, the true diabetic coma. At this point, this is a life-threatening medical emergency. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY. If this is truly a low blood sugar episode, the person will not recover on their own. Do not attempt to give the person sugar; never put anything into the mouth of an unconscious person as they could choke on it. The diabetic may have seizures, which may involve wild thrashing movements of the body, or could just be stiffening of the arms, or anything in between. If the person has a seizure, simply try to keep the person from being injured on a nearby object or the floor. Still, do not put any objects inside a seizing person's mouth.

The person could vomit, causing breathing problems. Keeping the person on one side, turned slightly more towards the floor, should minimize the problems from vomit.

If the blood sugar has dropped far enough, the person could even quit breathing or have her heartbeat stop. If this happens, someone trained in CPR should administer rescue breathing and chest compressions. If you have never been trained, the 911 operator should be able to give you instructions over the phone.

In any case, keep the person safe until an ambulance crew arrives to take over the diabetic's care. They will need to know the person's medical history, what medications the person takes, and any allergies the person has to medications. If you live in an area with paramedic response, the paramedics will probably start an IV line and give the diabetic sugar directly into the bloodstream, which will usually wake the person up within minutes, and sometimes works so well that the person refuses to go to the hospital! However, this may not be the case, and you should be prepared to have the diabetic taken to the hospital for further evaluation and treatment, in case there is another problem causing the low blood sugar.

Diabetic coma is a serious condition, but 24 out of 25 diabetics will die from some other cause. Closely following the diet and medications prescribed by your doctor will allow you to avoid this deadly disease.

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