A diabetic coma can occur with diabetes if your blood sugar goes too high or too low. In most cases this will not happen if you manage your blood sugar levels properly. Diabetic comas can happen to people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In a diabetic coma, you are still breathing but unconscious and unable to respond to people around you.
Signs of diabetic coma
The signs of a diabetic coma are the same as those for too high or too low blood sugar.
Symptoms of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) include:
- Frequent urination
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
- Rapid heartbeat
Low blood sugar can occur due to drinking alcohol, not eating enough, exercising too much, or taking too much insulin. Symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) include:
- Difficulty speaking
In some cases, people who have had diabetes for a long time can develop hypoglycemia unawareness, in which they can’t notice the warning signs that their blood sugar has dropped. Be sure to always test your blood sugar levels and follow the plan that you and your doctor set out.
Risk factors for diabetic coma
You are at increased risk for diabetic coma if:
- You’ve recently experienced a trauma or drastic change in your health, such as an accident, major illness, or surgery.
- You’ve experienced problems with insulin delivery, such as a broken insulin pump.
- You are not managing your diabetes or following your doctor’s plan for medications and lifestyle changes.
- You suffer from an eating disorder or are deliberately skipping meals or medications. Some people have an eating disorder called diabulimia, in which they intentionally don’t use insulin in order to lose weight. This practice can be very dangerous and possibly lead to diabetic coma.
- You use alcohol and drugs. People with diabetes need to be very careful when consuming alcohol or drugs, as these can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels. Know how these substances affect your body and be prepared with an emergency plan.
What you can do
Here are some good practices to follow to make sure a diabetic coma doesn’t happen to you, and to make sure you and your loved ones are prepared if it does.
- Tell you friends, family, and coworkers about the signs and let them know what to do in case of an emergency.
- Wear a diabetic ID bracelet or necklace.
- Use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to constantly monitor blood sugar levels.
- Have glucose tablets and a glucagon kit at hand in case of emergencies.
- Follow you and your doctor’s plan for medications, eating, and exercise.
- Test your blood sugar frequently.
- Drink lots of water and stay hydrated.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, and be sure to eat while drinking alcohol.
If you or someone you know experiences a diabetic coma, call 911 immediately and be sure to tell the emergency responders that the person has diabetes. As soon as he or she is treated, the sufferer should regain consciousness.