Diabetes is one of the most common and costly chronic diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30 million people are living with diabetes in the US, and another 84 million are prediabetic. In recognition of American Diabetes Month (November), let’s look at this often-misunderstood disease and go over some basic first aid recommendations for responding to a diabetic medical emergency.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body processes sugar. When we eat, the food is broken down into sugar (glucose) and released into our bloodstream. As our blood sugar goes up, our pancreas is signaled to release insulin which acts as a key to allow the blood sugar into our cells. It is then used as energy. People with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin or can’t effectively use the insulin their body makes.
The main types of diabetes are Type 1 (auto-immune disease), Type 2, and Gestational (diabetes while pregnant). With nearly 10% of our population living with diabetes, are you prepared to respond if a family member, friend, or coworker has a diabetic emergency?
Responding to a Diabetic Emergency
Signs of a diabetic emergency are sudden. The person may show signs of:
- Confusion or irritability
- Headache or dizziness
- Pale, cool, sweaty skin
- Tremor or seizures
- Hunger or thirst
- Double vision
- Rapid breathing and pulse
If you recognize the signs of a diabetic emergency, act quickly.
Give fast-acting sugar (ex: glucose tablet, soft candy, or regular soda) if the person is able to sit up and swallow. We recommend always giving sugar if you aren’t closely familiar with the person’s diabetic history. Low blood sugar develops rapidly, and the brain needs sugar to survive. Whereas, high blood sugar develops over time, so giving sugar to someone with high blood sugar will not cause additional harm during a medical emergency. By remembering to always give sugar, you can save a life.
Call 911 if there isn’t improvement within 15 minutes of the person taking the sugar.
Call 911 immediately if the person is unresponsive, confused, or can’t sit up and eat or drink sugar – or if you can’t locate a fast-acting sugar.
To learn more about medical emergencies, locate a CPR, AED, and First Aid Instructor near you.