Facts on Diabetic Reactions
- There are two main forms of diabetes:
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is the most common form of diabetic reaction. A low blood sugar reaction is caused by increased exertion or increased demand for glucose. The body may "run out" of stored glucose more quickly, thus bringing on a hypoglycemic attack. Persistent intake of excessive alcohol may cause this reaction, because alcohol decreases glucose stores in the liver.
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) is a common problem for people with diabetes. High blood sugar can be brought on by infections or other significant stresses that cause the body to decrease cell uptake of glucose. A decrease in cell uptake of glucose leads to high blood sugar levels as well as the alternative use of fats by starving cells for energy. Fat breakdown increases the acidity of the blood and worsens symptoms of high blood sugar.
What are the symptoms of a diabetic reactions?
Symptoms of diabetic reaction depends on the type of reaction.
Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia) Symptoms
- rapid onset of cool, pale, moist, and clammy skin;
- rapid pulse; and
- shallow breathing.
If untreated, symptoms may progress to confusion, nonsensical behavior, coma, and death.
High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia) Symptoms
- Symptoms occur gradually over several days.
- The person with high blood sugar develops increasing thirst and urination due to large amounts of unused glucose being lost in the urine.
- Skin feels warm and dry; respirations may be shallow; pulse is rapid and weak, and breath may have a sweet odor (due to ketoacidosis from fat breakdown).
- The person with high blood sugar may become confused or comatose, and death may result.
What is the treatment for diabetic reaction?
Low Blood Sugar Treatment
- Provide the hypoglycemic person with low blood sugar with juice, candy, or any other sweet substance. If the person responds to treatment, further food will be required.
- Wilderness trips should be carefully planned. Blood sugar monitors and adequate medication supplies (including refrigeration for insulin) should always be available.
NOTE: When in doubt, any person with diabetes who appears to be having a reaction should be treated as if he or she has low blood sugar until a blood sugar can be measured.
High Blood Sugar Treatment
- Encourage clear liquids with low or no sugar content.
- Administer IV fluids as soon as possible vomiting for the presence of ketoacidosis in the blood or urine. The person with high blood sugar may need extra insulin doses in a monitored medical setting.
When should I seek medical care for a diabetic reaction?
Low Blood Sugar
- Seek medical treatment if the person with low blood sugar fails to respond quickly (within 15 minutes).
- Ensure appropriate food intake to prevent further attacks.
High Blood Sugar
- Consult your health-care professional about extra doses of insulin.
- Seek medical treatment as soon as possible for loss of consciousness, presence of ketoacids in blood, urine, or vomiting.
Medically reviewed by John A. Seibel, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with a subspecialty in Endocrinology & Metabolism