6 Early Signs of a Diabetic Coma—and How to Prevent It

A diabetic coma is a life-threatening condition that results from large blood sugar peaks or dips, which leads to unconsciousness, and in rare cases, death. Watch for these signs that you're in danger—and learn the steps you can take to get your blood sugar back in check.

Tatiana Ayazo/RD.com

Diabetic Coma Symptoms:

You feel shaky—or tired

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) each have different warning signs, but can lead to the same result—diabetic coma. “Warning signs that you are in danger because the blood sugar is dropping or is too low include feeling shaky,” says Gillian Goddard, MD, board certified in internal medicine and endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, from Park Avenue Endocrinology & Nutrition. Learn about silent diabetes symptoms you might miss. On the other hand, you could notice high blood sugar leaving you fatigued, according to the Mayo Clinic.

You feel like you’re starving—or parched

If your blood sugar is low, “you may feel ravenously hungry,” says Dr. Goddard. And low blood sugar is also associated with frequent urination. Hyperglycemia, on the other hand, can lead to dry mouth and a parched feeling. You’ll want to avoid these foods if you’re diabetic.

You become erratic

As blood sugar drops to dangerous levels, your behavior may become unusual. “Family members often report that their loved ones may not make sense or that they get angry or difficult when their blood sugars are low,” Dr. Goddard says. If you’re feeling confused, that’s a sign that you need to measure your blood sugar.

You may feel faint—or your pulse races

“If a diabetic person passes out, you should always be concerned that low blood sugar may be the cause,” Dr. Goddard says. And a racing pulse is often related to high blood sugar. Check out the biggest myths about diabetes.

You sweat profusely—or need to urinate a lot

Profuse sweating is a sign of low blood sugar, while frequent trips to the bathroom is a sign of uncontrolled high blood sugar. Try these tricks for living better with diabetes.

You start having seizures—or feeling nauseous

When the body is deprived of its fuel—glucose, or blood sugar—everything can go haywire. “Severe low blood sugar can result in seizures and coma,” Dr. Eytan warns. Teach your family what to do if you collapse.

Prevention Pointers:

Carry around a snack

Having food handy can help you address the sugar issue before it becomes a serious problem. “Carry around a snack such as trail mix, raisins, or jellybeans that would bring your sugar up quickly if feeling unwell, says Shira Eytan, MD, who is board-certified in internal medicine and endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. “If you are prone to severe low blood sugar, you should always have a Glucagon pen on hand, which can be injected to bring up your glucose levels if you become unconscious and are unable to eat something.” Check the snacks to eat and what to skip if you have diabetes.

Plan your meals wisely

“You should make sure to eat meals regularly, and should have a balance of carbohydrates, healthy fat, and protein to keep your blood sugar steady,” says Dr. Eytan. “If you take insulin or a class of medications called sulfonylureas, you are at higher risk for low blood sugar and should be especially careful to not skip meals.” Add these foods to your eating plan.

Teach your loved ones the warning signs

Sometimes, you may not notice the signs—but if your friends and family know what to look out for, they can intervene before things get worse. Even better, check out this step-by-step plan to reverse diabetes.

Monitor your medication regimen

Follow your doctor’s dosing recommendations for your diabetes medications carefully. “It is important for people with diabetes to ask their doctor if their medications can cause a low blood sugar,” Dr. Goddard says. “They should ask if their medications need to be taken with food.”

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