What is a diabetic coma?
One of the risks associated with diabetes is what's known as a diabetic coma. A person with diabetes might suffer from a diabetic coma if his or her blood sugar levels get too high, a condition known as hyperglycemia, or go too low, which is referred to as hypoglycemia. A diabetic coma can result because of complications related to either.
Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body's ability to produce and/or use insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form in Oklahoma, which has consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally for the prevalence of diabetes in the state.
About 305,000 adults in Oklahoma have been diagnosed with diabetes. Oklahoma has one of the highest diabetes death rates in the nation, and it's the sixth leading cause of death in Oklahoma.
How is it treated?
A hyperglycemic hyperosmolar coma — a result of extremely high blood sugar — is a medical emergency. This is more common in people who have type 2 diabetes than type 1 diabetes patients.
When blood sugar gets too high, it draws fluid from the inside of brain cells, and you suffer from brain dysfunction. To help pull the person out of the coma, medical professionals will give that person fluids and insulin.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include decreasing levels of consciousness, frequent bathroom trips and extreme thirst. Sometimes hyperglycemia can be brought on by another condition or illness, such as urinary tract infections or pneumonia.
Meanwhile, a person suffering from a coma because of low blood sugar might have a faster turnaround time. Usually, these people notice symptoms related to hypoglycemia and then ingest glucose.
Early symptoms for hypoglycemia include an increased heart rate, chest palpitations, increased sweating and increased hunger. That's usually enough for a person to recognize they have low blood sugar and need access to glucose.
Issues with low blood sugar are more common than hyperglycemia. For example, sometimes a medicine you're taking might lower your blood sugar too much. When you're suffering from low blood sugar, it's generally advised to take rapid-acting glucose, such as pure glucose tablets.
Chocolate and other high fat foods aren't as ideal because they don't digest as quickly as other forms of glucose.
Frequent bouts with hypoglycemia can cause you to lose your sense of when your blood sugar drops. This can be a major issue, for serious symptoms of hypoglycemia include seizure and coma.
What's the recovery time?
When a person's blood sugar is too high, oftentimes he or she doesn't regain consciousness without treatment with IV fluids and insulin. This usually takes hours.
Even when blood sugar returns to normal, people can experience nerve dysfunction, including seizures or speech problems. Most people typically recover fully, but if the hyperglycemia is bad enough, these problems can persist.
Sometimes a person with low blood sugar can be given glucose, wake up quickly and feel better within minutes. However, when people aren't coached properly, they might take too much glucose.
What's the follow-up?
You'll want to check in with your doctor and talk about how best to prevent another diabetic coma or other serious complications. Your doctor might want to run some tests to understand how you're managing your diabetes.
How can it be prevented?
You can take steps to prevent a diabetic coma. For one, it's important to listen to your doctor and understand any and all instructions you're given.
You are your own health advocate, and your doctor is there to help you thrive.
Additionally, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable.
People with prediabetes are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If you're concerned about diabetes, you should talk with your doctor about what's a normal blood sugar for you. Your doctor can run an A1C test, a common blood test that shows your average blood sugar level over a two-month to three-month period.
Sources: Dr. James Lane, Harold Hamm chair in clinical diabetes research and professor in the endocrinology and diabetes section of the University of Oklahoma; National Institutes of Health; Mayo Clinic; American Diabetes Association; Oklahoma Health Department; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases' National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse