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Diabetic Coma: Be Aware of This Dangerous Complication

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  • If you’re a diabetic and your blood sugar dips to either dangerously high (hyperglycemia) or low (hypoglycemia) levels, there is a high chance for a diabetic coma to occur
  • A diabetic coma is a very serious condition, because if no medical treatment is received within a few hours after occurrence, it may lead to irreversible brain damage

If you are a diabetic who is struggling with diabetes, it is imperative to know how to properly manage your blood sugar levels, or it may lead to severe complications. One of the most alarming examples is a diabetic coma.

Statistics say that this condition can affect 2 to 15 percent of all diabetics at least once in their life.1 But what are the potential causes and warning signs of this complication, and how can you keep it from occurring?

What Happens When You Go Into a Diabetic Coma?

If you’re a diabetic and your blood sugar dips to either dangerously high (hyperglycemia) or low (hypoglycemia) levels, there is a high chance for a diabetic coma to occur. This is a condition wherein you lose consciousness and are unable to wake up and respond purposefully to the sights, sounds or other types of stimulation around you. A diabetic coma can be fatal if left untreated.2

The factors that trigger a diabetic coma depend on the type of diabetes that you’re diagnosed with. If you have Type 1 diabetes, it can be triggered either by dangerously low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) or high blood ketone levels, called ketoacidosis.

If you have Type 2 diabetes, however, a diabetic coma can be triggered due to low blood sugar or extremely high blood glucose levels, which is called hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome.3,4,5

All the following causes are classified as prolonged blood sugar extremes:6

Hypoglycemia — This is a condition wherein your blood glucose levels become too low (under 70 mg/dL). Since your brain uses glucose for fuel, a lack of it can keep this organ from working properly, causing it to shut down.7

Hypoglycemia is usually triggered if you have too much insulin inside your body or if you have not consumed enough food. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and vigorous exercise may also have this effect.

Its signs and symptoms depend on how severe your condition is, and it often only becomes apparent if your  blood sugar level is at dangerously low levels.

Diabetic ketoacidosisThis is  more commonly seen in Type 1 diabetics, but it can also manifest in those with Type 2 diabetes or women who have gestational diabetes.

This occurs when the muscle cells become starved for energy, prompting your body to break down fat stores. This causes toxic acids called ketones to form.

Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome — Usually occurring in middle-aged or older adults who have Type 2 diabetes, diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome happens when your blood glucose levels reach 600 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), causing your blood to become thick and syrupy.

As a result, the excess sugar passes to your urine, triggering a filtering process that pulls out large amounts of fluid from your body. Aside from diabetic coma, this can lead to dangerous dehydration.

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Symptoms That Indicate Risk of a Diabetic Coma

There are some telltale signs that you’re developing or are at risk of a diabetic coma, depending on whether you have high or low blood sugar:8

Hyperglycemia Hypoglycemia
Frequent urination Anxiety and/or confusion
Increased thirst Shakiness or nervousness
Fatigue Weakness
Very dry mouth Fatigue
Shortness of breath Hunger
Nausea and vomiting Nausea
Stomach pain Sweating
Fruity breath odor Dizziness or light-headedness
A rapid heartbeat Difficulty speaking

A Diabetic Coma Is a Very Serious Medical Emergency

A diabetic coma is a very serious condition; if no medical treatment is received within a couple of hours of it developing, it may lead to irreversible brain damage. If no treatment is received at all, it can be fatal. Should you or another diabetic person show a combination of the symptoms above, it’s best to consult emergency medical attention as soon as possible.


The primary treatment for hyperglycemia is the administration of fluids intravenously, so that your fluid levels will improve. Insulin, in this case, may be necessary to allow your cells to properly absorb the extra glucose in your body.

You may also receive supplemental phosphate, potassium and sodium, if your levels are drastically low. If you have hypoglycemia, you may be given a glucagon injection.9

A Diabetic Coma Can Be Reversed and Is Completely Preventable

It is possible to recover from a diabetic coma without any long-term damage, but only if proper emergency treatment is administered. Once your blood sugar level is in a healthy range, you will immediately feel better, and will regain consciousness as soon as treatment begins.10

It is also possible to completely avoid a diabetic coma. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, make sure to monitor your blood glucose levels daily. You must be aware of your target blood sugar ranges and how to act should they dip too low. Other important lifestyle strategies include:11,12

  • Drinking pure water to stay hydrated
  • Consuming a healthy and well-balanced diet
  • Following a regular exercise routine
  • Avoiding the consumption of alcohol

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