I Slipped into a Diabetic Coma from Hypoglycemia
When I was about 7 or 8 years old I had a very bad cold. Runny nose, coughing, extremely sore throat, the works. I remember sitting down to eat my dinner and it was definitely a task. For one, I had no appetite, and swallowing small bites of food felt like swallowing a mouthful of rocks. My mother reiterated the fact that I still needed to eat so I could keep my blood sugar level up. After a couple of bites I decided that I had eaten enough. I dumped the leftover food in the garbage, washed my plate and went to bed without my mother’s knowledge.
This is where the trouble started. While asleep my blood sugar dropped and dropped drastically. My mother tried to wake me to give me another dose of that horrible tasting medication. The one that “tastes awful but it works”. Unfortunately, mom was unsuccessful. She check my blood sugar level and realized it was extremely low. I was unconscious so she was unable to feed me anything sweet. With a mother’s instinct she did not wait for an ambulance. She snatched me up, hoped into her friend’s car and sped off to the hospital. With hazard lights on and the horn blazing it was a short trip to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The next thing I remembered after going to sleep was waking up kicking and screaming. After a couple seconds I gathered myself and calmed down. I looked at the doctor and asked him why I was there. He then asked me a few questions to ascertain my level of alertness while continuing his examination. After 2 more blood tests my blood sugar had finally climbed out of the danger zone. After administering dextrose directly to my blood stream it had no choice. The emergency room doctors and my family members breathed a sigh of relief. I was back to normal with no signs of complications.
Looking back at that event in my life I now understand how lucky I was. A diabetic coma is very dangerous and can cause serious issues. Both ends of the blood sugar spectrum hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia can wreak havoc. Each individual is different, hence blood sugar levels that trigger comas can differ. Therefore, a blood sugar level of 2.2mmol/L(39.6mg/dl) may render one person unresponsive while it may not for another. Hypoglycemia is most dangerous while asleep. When you are awake you normally feel the onset of either hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia and you can treat accordingly.
Unfortunately, some individuals with diabetes may suffer from hypoglycemia unawareness. This is a complication in which a diabetic is unaware of a deep drop in blood sugar because the body fails to trigger the secretion of epinephrine which generates the symptoms of hypoglycemia (such as palpitations, sweating, anxiety) that serve as warning signs. This makes managing diabetes much harder and testing blood sugar levels often is a must.
The Repercussions of a Diabetic Hypoglycemia Coma
- Brain Damage
Glucose is the only fuel normally used by brain cells. Because neurons cannot store glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply of it. Brain functions such as thinking, learning and memory are closely tied to glucose levels and how effectively the brain utilizes glucose. If glucose is lacking, neurotransmitters are not synthesized and communication between neurons breaks down. The severity of the damage depends on how low the blood glucose level is and how long the brain is glucose deprived.
As previously mentioned, the brain needs glucose to function. If it is deprived too long a person may become brain dead followed by death. Basically, if your brain stem dies, you die because there is no signal from the brain to tell your organs what to do. Therefore, no breathing, no pumping of blood, nothing. If the blood sugar drops much below 20 mg/dL or 1.1mmol/L there is probably going to be irreversible brain damage, and very likely death.
It is very important to treat hypoglycemia as soon as you exhibit the warning signs. There is no telling how fast your blood sugar will continue to drop. Testing your blood sugar level before going to sleep will help you determine if you need more carbohydrates to get you through the night or your daytime nap. You should also consult your doctor about adjusting your insulin dosage for when you are sick and unable to eat your usual amount of carbohydrates.
This has been the only instance in my life where I went into a coma. I am always very cautious of my blood sugar levels especially when I am going to bed. However, since this incident, if my blood sugar drops while I am asleep I always wake up automatically. I’m very grateful that my body is able to warn me even while asleep.