A loss of consciousness may be a life-threatening complication of diabetes known as a diabetic coma. Individuals in a diabetic coma are unaware of their surroundings and unresponsive to stimuli. If symptoms are ignored, this preventable condition may result in permanent brain damage or death. Proactive steps are necessary to prevent the onset of a diabetic coma.
Individuals who experience blood sugar levels that are too high or low for prolonged periods of time may develop conditions that could lead to a coma. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a condition that occurs due to an absence or insufficient supply of insulin, which forces the body to burn fat and create ketones that subsequently accumulate in the body. Hypoglycemia results from excessively low blood sugar levels caused by either insufficient food consumption or the presence of too much insulin. Hyperosmolar syndrome is a diabetic condition that results from excessively high blood sugar levels, which cause the blood to adopt a thick consistency. Individuals with hyperosmolar syndrome can easily become dehydrated since the sugar surplus may trigger excessive urination, thus forcing the body to filter immense amounts of fluid.
Signs of blood sugar extremes will generally manifest before the onset of a coma. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, may cause an individual to become shaky, moody, or confused. He or she may also exhibit symptoms that may include nausea, fatigue, and an elevated heart rate. Excessively high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, may present in similar ways to hypoglycemia. Individuals may experience additional symptoms that may include excessive thirst, frequent urination, and their breath may adopt a sweet or fruity odor.
A timely diagnosis is essential to managing this condition, which is considered a medical emergency. In most cases, an emergency medical technician (EMT) may be called to assess the individual’s condition and administer proper treatment to stabilize him or her. Subsequent lab tests, utilized to evaluate blood sugar, creatinine, and ketone levels, may be ordered to further assess the individual’s condition. Additional testing may be conducted to check his or her potassium, sodium, and phosphate levels, which the body employs to promote healthy cell function.
Treatment for a diabetic coma is dependent on whether the person's sugar level is too low or too high. Low blood sugar levels may be stabilized with the administration of a glucagon injection, which works by quickly raising the body's sugar level. Individuals with an excessively high sugar level may be given intravenous fluids, insulin, and supplements to stabilize his or her condition. Consciousness may return once an individual's sugar level is stabilized.
Complications associated with this condition include permanent brain damage and death. Individuals with type one or two diabetes are at an increased risk for coma onset. Additional factors that might contribute to this condition may include recent surgery or illness, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use. Those who do not properly manage their diabetes by not monitoring their sugar levels or not taking their insulin as directed are at a high risk for slipping into a diabetic coma. Proactive measures to reduce one’s risk include adhering to one’s established treatment regimen, regularly monitoring blood sugar levels, and taking all medications as directed by a physician.