Video 45 of 61
8 min 3 sec
English, Español
English, Español

In this lesson, you'll learn how to help a person with a blood sugar emergency. Some things to keep in mind about blood sugar problems:

  • Signs and symptoms are the same for low blood sugar and high blood sugar
  • Blood sugar issues will get worse without treatment
  • Without treatment, the person could become unresponsive and die

The three most common signs and symptoms of someone experiencing a blood sugar issue are:

  1. Confusion
  2. Coordination issues
  3. Talking nonsense

A person with a blood sugar issue might also randomly fidget with something and appear quite out of it.

There are two major types of diabetic emergencies – high blood sugar and low blood sugar. High blood sugar is different than low blood sugar for a few important reasons.

  1. The signs and symptoms of high blood sugar can take hours or days to appear.
  2. It usually involves noticeable increases in thirst and urination, as the body tries to rid itself of excess sugar. (Incidentally, these are often the first signs of diabetes.)
  3. There's very little treatment that can be provided outside of a healthcare environment. In high blood sugar emergencies, call 911 or get the person to an emergency room for treatment.

Pro Tip #1: The latter stages of a high blood sugar emergency will involve something called ketoacidosis, which produces a tell-tale sign of a fruitiness or cheap wine smell on the breath.

While you cannot do anything about high blood sugar, you can provide help to those suffering from low blood sugar emergencies.

Warning: Low blood sugar emergencies can easily catch people by surprise, as symptoms can appear in seconds or minutes.

Some common signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Agitation

How to Provide Care

Treatment for low blood sugar can be summed up with one word: Sugar.

However, some delivery methods are faster than others. And some sugars aren't really sugars at all. Let's explain.

Sugary food sources are abundantly available, which makes them good options in a diabetic emergency. However, you'll want to steer clear of the carbs, particularly grains and fibers, as these are slow digesting and will hinder the quick fix you're looking for.

Instead, focus on candy, or better yet, drinks. Sodas and especially orange juice are great food options. Just make sure the ingredients in your “medicine” includes sugar and not a sugar substitute. So, no diet sodas for sure.

A Better Option – Glucose Tabs, Liquid, Gel

This option is especially key for known diabetics or friends and family members of known diabetics.

Glucose products have been specially designed to be absorbed quickly. These products are more beneficial for reasons beyond how fast they work though, including:

  • Long shelf life
  • Stable in extreme heat and cold
  • Small, easy to carry in a purse, backpack, etc.

While glucose products are a great option for all of these reasons, they can be quite difficult to open. They naturally come sealed to avoid tampering, and while not particularly difficult to open when lucid and sober, when you're confused and dizzy and in the grips of a diabetic emergency, it could be problematic.

Not to worry. Simply remove the seal in advance of any emergencies, and you may just shave some precious time off the delivery of treatment.

Pro Tip #2: Known diabetics should know what their glucose dose is, just like any other type of medicine. This is something a physician can address. Knowing how much glucose you need in a diabetic emergency may be invaluable, and a much better option than guessing.

A Few Common Questions About Diabetic Emergencies

How long does it take for glucose products to work?

It can take up to 15 minutes to feel the effects of consuming sugar or glucose after a hypoglycemic event. Known diabetics will hopefully know what their dose is and how long to wait after the first dose before taking another.

If the person having the diabetic emergency isn't a known diabetic, you'll have to guess when it comes to dosing. If symptoms aren't improving after a couple of doses (for glucose products) or a full 16-ounce bottle of soda or orange juice, there could be something else going on; call 911 and activate EMS if you haven't already done so.

What if the person having the diabetic emergency is having trouble swallowing or keeping food and fluids down?

A person can only consume a glucose or sugar product if they are able to swallow safely. If their sugar event has escalated to the point where they cannot control their swallow reflex, it's too late. Sugar will need to be administered through an IV or by intermuscular injection.

Call 911 immediately and activate EMS if this is the situation.

In what other situations should I call 911?

Any situation beyond the scope of your care should involve a 911 call. But as it pertains to diabetic emergencies, call 911 if the victim:

  • Isn't breathing normally
  • Loses consciousness
  • Loses a pulse
  • Goes into shock
  • This is your first hypoglycemic event

You may have gone through a diabetic emergency before, either involving yourself or someone else. But if this is your first diabetic emergency, be on the safe side (whether you're the victim or the rescuer) and call 911.