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Diabetes Complications that Can Lead to Emergencies

As we all know, falls are a major cause of problems as you age. And those with diabetes have an even greater probability of falls.

Most falls tend to happen inside in the bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen. Around ten percent of falls happen while on the stairs–walking downstairs is even more dangerous than upstairs. Be especially careful when you are walking while carrying something. When outdoors, the most common places to fall are on steps and curbs.

Aside from falls, there are many diabetes emergencies that can occur when you have diabetes.

Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body stops producing insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body loses its sensitivity to insulin. While type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different, both can cause dangerous blood sugar highs and lows that can lead to diabetes emergencies.

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Diabetes complications

What are the major risk factors for emergencies with diabetes? There are many complications of diabetes that can make people more susceptible to accidents.

Foot sores. People with diabetes can develop sores on their feet that can lead to poor balance and falls. Neuropathy, or nerve damage that leads to loss of feeling in the feet, can make it so that the person with diabetes is unaware of sores that may be present. That’s why it’s important to check one’s feet daily for any potential problems.

Diabetic shock. Diabetic shock occurs when blood sugar levels drop very low; this is also called severe hypoglycemia. It can lead to dizziness, shaking, trouble thinking and speaking, and anxiety.

Diabetic coma. This can occur if your blood sugar levels go way too high or way too low, resulting in unconsciousness. If another person is not there to help you, this condition could be fatal.

Neuropathy. As diabetes progresses, high blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage throughout the body that leads to nerve pain, tingling, and loss of feeling. Usually this occurs in the hands and feet, but it can occur all over the body. Neuropathy can lead to foot sores, unsteadiness, falls, and discomfort.

Retinopathy. A complication of diabetes can sometimes be diabetic retinopathy. This occurs when the nerves of the eye are damaged and can lead to vision loss and blindness.

Other eye problems. Diabetes can also make other vision problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration more likely. Vision loss in turn can lead to accidents like falling.

Hypoglycemia. Very low blood sugar can occur, which can lead to dizziness, fainting, and falls. Keeping your blood sugar levels well-managed can alleviate any problems associated with severe hypoglycemia.

Hyperglycemia. Blood sugar levels that are too high can lead to a rapid heartbeat and extreme thirst, as well as other symptoms.

Multiple medications. Many people with diabetes take medications to control their blood sugar, plus medications to control other conditions. It’s very important to go over all the medications you are taking with your doctor regularly in order to make sure that they aren’t interacting badly with one another. Medication interactions are a big factor in causing dizziness, confusion, falling, and even worse side effects.  

Blood pressure medications. Blood pressure medications have been shown to be associated with falls causing severe injuries. Lowering blood pressure can cause lightheadedness and fainting when standing up after sitting for a length of time.

Metformin. Metformin is a drug commonly prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes. While it is greatly beneficial for type 2,  it can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to balance problems.

Impaired kidney function. Along with diabetes often comes kidney damage, or Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Kidney disease leads to inadequate vitamin D levels, which can contribute to  bone density loss and loss of muscle strength.

Joint inflammation. Another complication of diabetes is inflammation of the joints, which can make walking safely and with confidence a difficult task.

Obesity. While not always the case, obesity is sometimes a comorbidity with type 2 diabetes. Being extremely overweight, with a BMI over 30, can make moving about hard and can lead to falls and injuries.

Amputations. In severe cases of diabetes, when limbs become infected, they have to be amputated. It goes without saying that in this case moving about can be hard and falls can happen.

High and low blood sugar symptoms

Know the symptoms of high and low blood sugar so you can be prepared when a high or low occurs.

Symptoms of hyperglycemia (very high blood sugar)
  • Thirstiness
  • Frequent urination
  • Very tired
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in stomach
  • Breath that smells fruity
  • Dry mouth
  • Rapid heartbeat
Symptoms of hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar)
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble speaking or slurred speech
  • Confusion
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What you can do

Here are the important steps to take to ensure that diabetes complications don’t lead to severe problems or accidents in your life.

Medication management. See a doctor regularly for a review of your medications. Certain medications might be interacting to cause problems. Mood stabilizers can cause confusion and dizziness; these should be reviewed to see if the dosage can be adjusted. Certain medical alert systems offer medication management technology as well.  

Use a medical alert device. Medical alert systems are a great way to make sure you are safe at all times, even if a diabetic emergency occurs. Med alerts even have fall detection and GPS tracking features to make sure you can get help wherever you go. Options include at-home landline systems, mobile wearable devices, and even smartwatches.

Blood sugar management. Correctly managing blood sugar levels is key to staying healthy with diabetes. Create a plan with your doctor and diabetes educator for insulin use, medications, diet, and activity. You might have to experiment with the best foods to eat and the right levels of exercise to keep your levels in check.

Annual assessment of fall risk. Ask your doctor to assess your fall risk each year. They can make suggestions as to changes you can make to mitigate your risk.

Be active. Be sure to get exercise and be active as much as you can. The more sedentary a person is, the less agile they will be and more prone to falls and accidents. Create a plan with a personal trainer or join a group class.

Home modifications. An occupational therapist, physical therapist, or nurse can suggest changes you can make to your home. They can also evaluate how mobile you are and give you exercises to improve your balance and strength. The main things to do to make your home safe to navigate are to remove clutter, remove throw rugs, add lighting where needed, and add grab bars.  

Take osteoporosis medications. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, be sure to take the appropriate medications as prescribed by your doctor. These can help prevent bone breaks if a fall should occur.   

Wear appropriate shoes. Always wear rubber-soled sturdy shoes or purchase therapeutic footwear, which may be covered by Medicare.

Talk about it. Don’t be ashamed or scared if you fall or experience a diabetes emergency. Tell people about it so you can get help. The same goes for feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear of falling. Talking to a counselor and doing behavioral therapy can help you regain confidence, clarity, and strength.