This week is Diabetes Week 2017 in the UK. Every day, 65 people in the UK die early as a result of diabetes. It is important to know how to help a diabetic whose life is in danger.
What is it?
Diabetes is a condition where someone is unable to adequately regulate their blood glucose levels. The body produces the hormone insulin which helps the body burn off sugars. If someone’s body has problems with insulin production, they will develop diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
This usually develops early in life and is the most common type of diabetes in children. It occurs when the body is unable to produce any insulin. Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin injections, or by using an insulin pump.
Type 2 Diabetes
This is the more widespread type. It tends to develop later in life, and is often linked to obesity. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body is unable to make enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). Type 2 Diabetes is controlled by diet, exercise or oral medication – or a combination of all 3.
First aid treatment for diabetes is more likely to be necessary for low blood sugar levels than high. This is because high blood sugar levels usually build over a few days or weeks, whereas low levels can come on very fast. Blood sugar can drop very quickly if the person has missed a meal or done any strenuous exercise.
If you are looking after someone who develops weight loss, excessive urination, thirst and tiredness, these are symptoms of hyperglycaemia and they should get urgent medical attention. If they get worse, begin to get drowsy and start to lose consciousness, phone for an ambulance.
Low Blood Sugar/Hypoglycaemia
Blood glucose levels can drop very fast if someone who is diabetic has skipped a meal, taken a lot of exercise, if they are ill, or have given themselves too much insulin. If this is not treated quickly they can rapidly start to lose consciousness and fall into a diabetic coma. This can be fatal.
Signs and symptoms
- Behaving unusually
- May be aggressive
- Could appear slightly confused or drunk
- They are pale, cold, shaky and sweaty
- They have shallow, rapid breathing and a fast, strong pulse
- They could have seizures.
- Sit them down and give them a sugary drink, or glucose sweets (not a diet drink).
- If they begin to feel better, give more drinks and some food, particularly biscuits or bread to sustain their blood sugar – a jam sandwich is great.
- If they don’t feel better within 10 minutes or they begin to get worse phone the emergency services.
- If they lose consciousness but are breathing, put into the recovery position and phone the emergency services.
- If they stop breathing, prepare to give CPR.
Do not attempt to give an unconscious casualty anything to eat or drink. And never give them insulin as this will further lower their blood sugar and could kill them.
Even if someone appears to have recovered, ensure they receive urgent medical advice. This is particularly important at night, as insulin will still be active in the blood stream while they are asleep and the blood sugar levels will therefore drop again and they could drift from sleeping to unconsciousness.
It is highly recommended that you attend a practical or online first aid course to learn how to help in a medical emergency.
First Aid for Life and onlinefirstaid.com provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. The best way to be prepared for action in an emergency is to attend a practical first aid course.