December 26, 2021

What Is A Diabetic Coma

What Is A Diabetic Coma

A diabetic coma is a state of unconsciousness or unresponsiveness which occurs because of blood glucose levels becoming either dangerously high, or low. If a diabetic coma is not treated promptly, brain damage or death can ultimately result.

If you are the first responder to someone in a diabetic coma, call for emergency assistance immediately. An unconscious person should not be given anything orally as they may choke. Insulin should be given only in certain instances, so this is an emergency requiring professional attendance. If insulin is injected into someone who is suffering a hypoglycemic episode, it will be made much worse.

A person who is diabetic has, essentially, lost the natural ability to control their blood sugar levels, and often requires ongoing pharmaceutical assistance to keep their blood glucose within safe limits. Because of this, situations can occur where these limits are exceeded.

Diabetics, whether type 1 or 2, will have experienced symptoms of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, or even both (at different times). A diabetic coma is the dangerously extreme result of either of these conditions.

Different Types of Diabetic Coma

Conditions of either hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can trigger a diabetic coma.

Diabetic Hyperosmolar Syndrome – Due to A Hyperglycemic State

One condition is called diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome and mostly affects type 2 diabetics. This type of diabetic coma occurs due to hyperglycemia, or excessive blood sugar. The condition arises when blood sugar levels are persistently elevated, generally due to chronic insulin resistance. This of course is the prevailing cause of type 2 diabetes.

If left untreated, either by dietary modification or insulin supplementation, the body desperately tries to remove the high blood sugar by excreting it via frequent urination. This can lead to a dangerous level of dehydration, to levels that cause the blood to become thick due to lack of hydration.

Fluid depletion can reach a stage that is impossible to relieve orally, and it can be necessary to be hydrated via intravenous drip. Again, this frequent urination and feeling of thirst are classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis - Due to A Hypoglycemic State

Another condition which can lead to diabetic coma is called diabetic ketoacidosis and is due to a hypoglycemic state. This mostly affects those with type 1 diabetes, but type 2 sufferers can be affected in certain circumstances.

When blood sugar levels are depleted, the body metabolizes fat stores to obtain ketones, which are an energy source the body can use as it would glucose. When this process is extreme and sustained, it can result in an excessively acid state (acidosis) that becomes toxic to the body and can result in coma.

Many people who are overweight purposely seek to trigger ketosis in their body to break down and utilize unwanted bodyfat. This is a natural process and a useful tool, but it is important to ensure adequate fluid intake when undertaking a ketonic diet.

As stated, the greatest risk is to type 1 diabetics, especially if insulin intake is misjudged, or other factors such as diet and physical exertion of stress affect the insulin/glucose ratio in the body.


A diabetic coma can be triggered by hypoglycemia even when ketoacidosis does not occur. An extreme hypoglycemic state can starve the brain of needed glucose and cause coma. This condition is most common to type 1 diabetics.  

Perversely, however, it can occur in type 2 diabetics, because of excessive insulin intake, especially if combined with vigorous exercise or physical effort.

Diabetic Coma is Manageable

The consequences of diabetic coma can be severe, but the risks of experiencing a diabetic coma can be managed. It is necessary for every diabetic sufferer or carer to be aware of their own circumstances and reactions, to prevent or minimize the risks of an occurrence.

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