EMS Corner: Diabetic Emergencies

What Is the Difference Between Insulin Shock vs. Diabetic Coma?

Diabetic emergencies are common calls for first aid providers and industrial response teams.  Although the symptoms may seem similar, there are vastly different reasons for various diabetic conditions.

Insulin Reaction (or Insulin Shock) is a condition that occurs when there is TOO MUCH INSULIN in the body. This condition rapidly reduces the level of sugar in the blood and brain cells suffer. Insulin reaction can be caused by taking too much medication, by failing to eat, by heavy exercise and by emotional factors. Signs and symptoms of Insulin Shock include; fast breathing, fast pulse, dizziness, weakness, change in the level of consciousness, vision difficulties, sweating, headache, numb hands or feet, hunger.

Diabetic Coma is a condition that occurs when there is TOO MUCH SUGAR and too little INSULIN in the blood and body cells do not get enough nourishment. Diabetic coma can be caused by eating too much sugar, by not taking prescribed medications, by stress and by infection. Diabetic coma develops slowly, sometimes over days, with signs and symptoms including; drowsiness, confusion, deep and fast breathing, thirst, dehydration, fever, a change in the level of consciousness and a peculiar sweet or fruity-smelling breath.

If the patient is conscious, you can ask two very important questions which will help determine the nature of the problem:

– Ask “HAVE YOU EATEN TODAY?” – Someone who has eaten, but has not taken prescribed medication may be in a diabetic coma.

– Ask “HAVE YOU TAKEN YOUR MEDICATION TODAY?” – Someone who has not eaten, but did take their medication, may be having an Insulin reaction.

NOTE: Distinguishing between the two types of diabetic emergencies can be difficult

A person in Insulin Shock needs sugar quickly. If the person is conscious, give sugar in any form such as juice, candy, or a soft drink. If the person is suffering from Diabetic Coma, the sugar is not required but will not cause them harm.

Safety Compliance Services provides National Safety Council First Aid in which diabetic emergencies are covered.  This can be an important skill to help a friend, family member or coworker.

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