What is a diabetic coma?

A loss of consciousness can be a life-threatening complication of diabetes known as diabetic coma. People in a diabetic coma are unaware of their surroundings and do not respond to stimuli. If symptoms are ignored, this preventable condition can lead to permanent brain damage or death. Proactive steps are necessary to prevent the onset of a diabetic coma.

People who experience blood sugar levels that are too high or too low for prolonged periods of time may develop conditions that could lead to a coma. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a condition that occurs due to the absence or insufficient supply of insulin, forcing the body to burn fat and create ketones that subsequently accumulate in the body. Hypoglycemia is the result of excessively low blood sugar levels caused by insufficient food intake or the presence of too much insulin. Hyperosmolar syndrome is a diabetic condition that results from excessively high levels of sugar in the blood, causing the blood to take on a thick consistency. People with hyperosmolar syndrome can easily become dehydrated, as excess sugar can lead to excessive urination, forcing the body to filter immense amounts of fluid.

Signs of extreme blood sugar levels will usually manifest before the onset of a coma. Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can cause an individual to become shaky, moody, or confused. He or she may also have symptoms that may include nausea, fatigue, and an elevated heart rate. Excessively high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, can present in a similar way to hypoglycemia. People may experience additional symptoms that may include excessive thirst, frequent urination, and their breath may take on a sweet or fruity odor.

Prompt diagnosis is essential to managing this condition, which is considered a medical emergency. In most cases, an emergency medical technician (EMT) can be called to assess the individual's condition and administer the appropriate treatment to stabilize it. Subsequent laboratory tests, used to assess blood sugar, creatinine, and ketone levels, may be ordered to further assess the individual's condition. Additional tests may be done to check your levels of potassium, sodium, and phosphate, which the body uses to promote healthy cell function.

Treatment for a diabetic coma depends on whether the person's blood sugar level is too low or too high. Low blood sugar levels can be stabilized with the administration of an injection of glucagon, which works by rapidly increasing the level of sugar in the body. People with excessively high blood sugar may receive intravenous fluids, insulin, and supplements to stabilize their condition. Consciousness may return once an individual's blood sugar level stabilizes.

Complications associated with a diabetic coma include permanent brain damage and death. People with type one or two diabetes are at increased risk of developing a coma. Additional factors that may contribute to this condition may include recent surgery or illness, alcohol use, and illegal drug use. Those who do not adequately control their diabetes by not controlling their blood sugar levels or not taking their insulin as directed are at high risk of slipping into a diabetic coma. Proactive measures to reduce the risk of a diabetic coma include adhering to an established treatment regimen, regularly monitoring blood sugar levels, and taking all medications as directed by a doctor.

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