During this month alone I have seen two patients who have been rushed to the emergency unit in an unconscious state due to low blood sugar. This can be a debilitating condition if not recognised and treated early.
Low blood sugar known as hypoglycaemia in medical terminology, is a condition that arises due to low glucose in the blood. This usually happens when the blood glucose level is less than 4mmol/l however diabetics can also experience symptoms of low blood glucose a higher level. It is a common complication of diabetes, particularly those who are taking insulin as part of their treatment.
It is important to recognise low blood sugar early as a delay in instituting treatment can result in brain damage and death. The symptoms of this condition can be vast. The common early symptoms include a feeling of hunger, palpitations, tremors, sweating and feeling anxious. These symptoms may then progress if left untreated and may result in confusion, behavioral changes, seizures and eventually coma.
There are several causes of low blood sugar. In persons with diabetes the commonest causes are often medication related. Hypoglycaemia may occur if the treatment is too much and results in very low levels of glucose. in those taking insulin the commonest cause of low blood glucose if injecting oneself with insulin and the not eating. Other causes including dosing errors resulting in taking a large dose of insulin by mistake.
Hypoglycaemia can also happen in individuals without diabetes. Some of the causes of this include alcohol abuse. Organ failure such as liver failure and kidney failure can also result in very low levels of glucose. Individuals with critical illness can also present with dangerously low levels of blood glucose. Other rare causes of low blood glucose include tumors that produce very high levels of insulin and conditions that affect the adrenal glands.
If one experiences symptoms that are suggestive of hypoglycaemia then they must check their blood glucose levels immediately if they have a machine available, if they don’t have a machine then they must institute measures to treat the low blood glucose. The easiest way of managing low blood glucose is to take a glass of a sugary drink, which can be juice, a fizzy drink or sugar water made by adding two teaspoons of sugar in a glass of water. Glucose tablets or gel may also be an alternative. The blood glucose can then be rechecked to see if there are any improvements. It is important to then take a meal after taking the sugary drink to keep the blood glucose at an acceptable level.
If a diabetic patient is found unconscious the first thing to do is to check their blood sugar levels, if possible. if that is not possible then they must be turned on the side to avoid choking. then one can put sugar or glucose tablets under the tongue and see if there is a response. If they wake up, then one could continue with sugary drinks and meals. It is important to then go to the nearest health facility afterwards to get a proper assessment.