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If a patient has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, then they may beat risk of going into a diabetic coma.

While they may not have experienced this before, there's always a chance of it occurring. Whether you have diabetes yourself or know someone who does, it's important to know precisely what happens in a diabetic coma.

This way, you know what to do if you are with someone who is in a diabetic coma. If you yourself have diabetes, make sure that friends and family know what to do as well.

Let’s take a look at six things you should know about going into a diabetic coma.

What Is Diabetes?

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Diabetes is a chronic health condition. It develops when the pancreas is no longer capable of producing insulin, or when the body stops using the insulin that the pancreas
is producing.

Insulin is the hormone that allows glucose to pass through the bloodstream into the body’s cells to be used for energy. All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose that travels through the bloodstream to get to the body’s cells.

If your body isn’t producing enough insulin or making the most of any existing insulin, then glucose can build up in the bloodstream. This may cause damage to your organs, blood vessels and nerves.

1. Types Of Diabetic Coma: Severe Hypoglycemia

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When a patient who has diabetes falls into a coma, it is a medical emergency. There are three different types of diabetic comas.

The first type of diabetic coma affects patients with type 1 diabetes who must replace the insulin in their body by taking it regularly. Patients like this are vulnerable to suffering from hypoglycemia.

Mild cases of hypoglycemia can usually be reversed by drinking or eating carbohydrates. However, if the patient's blood sugar levels fall fast enough, they may lose consciousness.

Unconsciousness as a result of hypoglycemia may occur within twenty minutes to an hour after experiencing initial symptoms. Convulsions or twitching may occur.

A person who is unconscious as a result of hypoglycemia usually has a rapid heartbeat, and is pale and sweaty. This is due to the adrenaline response to hypoglycemia.

The individual is not typically dehydrated, and their breathing may be either shallow or regular. Their blood sugar levels will be low but often not severely.

2. Types Of Diabetic Coma: Advanced Diabetic

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If a diabetic patient suffers from diabetic ketoacidosis, it may worsen and progress without treatment. This can lead to unconsciousness. This may be caused by a combination of dehydration, shock and an exceptionally
high blood sugar level.

While a coma will only occur at an advanced stage of this condition, this will manifest towards the end of a 36-hour period that will include symptoms like hyperventilation and vomiting.

When a patient is experiencing early to middle stages of diabetic ketoacidosis, they will usually be flushed with rapid breathing. They may be visibly dehydrated and pale in appearance. When a coma occurs, their heartbeat will increase. However, these symptoms can vary and don’t always
occur at the same time.

If the patient is known to have diabetes, diagnosis of ketoacidosis is most probable when they have a history of vomiting over a period of one to two days. This diagnosis can be further confirmed through an emergency blood test in which results will likely show high levels of blood sugar and metabolic acidosis.

If the patient is experiencing a diabetic coma as a result of this condition, one of the first things that must be done is stabilization of the circulation.

3. Types Of Diabetic Coma: Nonketotic Hyperosmolar

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A hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (previously known as nonketotic hyperosmolar coma) may develop more gradually than diabetic ketoacidosis. However, its effects may be more severe.

Rather than apparent illness and vomiting, a patient may experience gradual lethargy that leads to obtundation or a reduced level of alertness.

One of the leading causes of this type of diabetic coma is exceptionally high levels of glucose in the blood and dehydration. Patients who suffer from steroid or type 2 diabetes are highly susceptible to this type of diabetic coma.

Additionally, patients who have an impaired ability to recognize when they’re thirsty may also be more at risk of this type of coma. It is a classic condition found in nursing homes – however, it can occur at all ages.

Obtundation reveals a nonketotic hyperosmolar diagnosis through a simple chemistry screen test. Gradual rehydration of fluids is the first port of call when a patient is experiencing this condition.

While we have identified the leading causes of these three types of diabetic comas, there are other factors to consider as well. These include alcohol, stroke, seizure, or head injury. Ultimately, patients who live with a type 1 or type 2 diabetes diagnosis are much more susceptible to these types of comas than patients who don't live with the disease.

4. Signs And Symptoms Of A Diabetic Coma

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As we've seen above, no single symptom can be associated with a diabetic coma. Of course, the symptoms may vary depending on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Each kind of coma may be preceded by a combination of several different symptoms and signs. There may also be differences in symptoms between high and low levels of blood sugar.

Let’s take a look at the symptoms you may experience if your blood sugar is too low and could be lowering to dangerous levels:

  • Shakiness
  • Sudden onset of fatigue
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Extreme hunger
  • Clammy or sweaty palms
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Decreased levels of motor coordination
  • Difficulty speaking or articulating words

Now, let’s take a look at symptoms you may experience if your blood sugar levels are high and are at risk of reaching dangerous levels:

  • Dry mouth and increased levels of thirst
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • High levels of blood sugar
  • Ketones present in the urine or blood
  • Itchy or irritable skin
  • Abdominal pain, often accompanied by vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion

If you experience any of these symptoms, whether they're regular or irregular, it's essential that you test your blood sugar levels. This could help to prevent the onset of a diabetic coma.

5. Treatment And Recovery Of A Diabetic Coma

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The treatment options available depend on the type of diabetic coma that the patient is in.

If the patient is experiencing a hyperglycemic diabetic coma, they may require the administration of the glucagon hormone. This will help to reverse the effects of insulin or any glucose that’s been injected intravenously.

For a patient who is experiencing a ketoacidotic diabetic coma, insulin and other intravenous fluids may be administered. Additionally, they may require the administration of sodium and potassium.

If a patient is in a hyperosmolar diabetic coma, they will require high levels of intravenous fluids. These will include potassium, sodium, and insulin. These must be administered as soon as possible.

For most patients experiencing a diabetic coma, once blood glucose levels are stabilized they should begin to feel better almost immediately. The patient should regain consciousness soon after the appropriate treatment begins.

If the patient is given treatment soon after symptoms first appear, then there shouldn’t be any lasting effects. However, if treatment is delayed and the patient is in a coma for several hours, there is the risk of brain damage.

This being said, people who receive emergency treatment for
a diabetic coma typically experience a full recovery.

6. How To Prevent A Diabetic Coma

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If you live with diabetes, it’s essential to pay attention to your diet and levels of blood sugar on a daily basis. One of the best ways to prevent a diabetic coma from occurring is correct blood glucose management.

For everyday management, this means testing your ketones and blood glucose and taking the required amount of insulin which has been advised by your healthcare professional.

It's also vital that you pay attention to the amount of carbohydrates you consume. This is vital for people who have both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. You may want to consider seeking support from a professional nutritionist or dietitian who can help you create a diabetes meal plan.

You should be in a position where you know what steps to take if you missed a dose of insulin or any other prescribed diabetes medication. While a diabetic coma is somewhat of a rare event, it's crucial that you're aware of the risks and causes.

Looking At 6 Things To Know About Being In A Diabetic Coma

While diabetic comas aren’t common, if you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you may be at risk.

It's crucial that you consult with your healthcare professional about living with either disease and what you can do to prevent losing consciousness.

By taking precautions and keeping your blood sugar levels in check, you can reduce your risk of suffering from a diabetic coma.

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