First Aid for Diabetic Emergencies
For diabetics, too much or too little insulin in the body can cause life-threatening emergencies. Knowledge of first aid for diabetic emergencies is definitely helpful if you or your loved one is a diabetic.
Diabetes is among the leading causes of morbidity worldwide. In the United States, an estimated 20 million people have diabetes, with 6 million still unaware of their condition.
Diabetes is a condition that results from the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar levels. It is mainly due to failure of the insulin to control blood sugar. If not managed well, diabetes can lead to complications, either long-term or short-term. Short-term complications or diabetic emergencies arising from too high (hyperglycemia or diabetic ketoacidosis) or too low (hypoglycemia or insulin shock) blood sugar levels can be life-threatening. Providing prompt and proper first aid for diabetic emergencies is essential in preventing serious outcome.
Recognizing diabetic emergencies
Diabetics display a wide range of symptoms that often make recognizing symptoms of genuine diabetic emergencies difficult. In the past years, there have been a significant number of unnecessary calls to emergency medical services. These include call-outs for symptoms of non-emergency conditions such as mild hypoglycemia which, in most cases, can be treated at home even before the emergency personnel have arrived.
However, this does not mean that hypoglycemia is not life-threatening. Hypoglycemia symptoms that involve vomiting, fitting and unconsciousness are often serious, and especially if there is no one who knows how to provide first aid for diabetic emergencies. In most cases, diabetic emergencies proceed progressively. Recognizing and treating these symptoms can prevent it from progressing into a serious situation.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia or insulin shock
• Body weakness
• Fast breathing
• Rapid pulse
• Headache, trembling
• Numbness of feet or hands
• Odorless breath
Symptoms of hyperglycemia or diabetic coma
• Rapid but weak pulse
• Deep breathing
• Unsteady gait
• Sweet apple or nail polish-like breath odor
• Flushed, dry, warm skin
• Gradual loss of consciousness
The general principles for first aid for diabetic emergencies are the same:
• If the victim becomes unresponsive or unconscious, call your local emergency number or 911 immediately, or bring the victim to the nearest emergency department.
• If the victim shows life-threatening conditions, assist the victim on his/her back against a flat surface, open the airway, and check for breathing and pulse while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive. Be ready to provide CPR, if necessary.
• If the victim is conscious and alert, but displays signs of hypoglycemia, give him or her sugar.
• If the victim is conscious and can assess the situation, and displays symptoms of hyperglycemia, assist him/her with taking necessary prescription medication.
If you are diabetic and you start to develop symptoms of an emergency situation, it is important to inform people around you that you have diabetes. This way, you can help them be able to help you. Wearing MedicAlert tags will greatly help people, especially medical professionals; provide the right first aid for diabetic emergencies.
Finally, effective management of diabetes through exercise, compliance with treatment regimen, healthy food choices, and monitoring of blood glucose levels is the best way to prevent these medical emergencies.