Friday, June 13, 2008

Recognizing hypoglycemia in others

The Washington Post published this health tip for today on hypoglycemia in diabetics. It's pretty basic, but I think it's interesting that most of the symptoms are ones that the person crashing will feel, rather than symptoms that those around him or her can learn to recognize.

One of the biggest problems with hypoglycemia is that the diabetic doesn't always recognize right away what the problem is. My first symptom is usually a lack of concentration. I have read the same paragraph or page over and over again without understanding it — sometimes staring at it for 10 minutes before realizing what was wrong.

My point is, diabetics don't always know right off the bat when their blood sugar is crashing. Sometimes they stop noticing at all (known as hypoglycemia unawareness). So the people a diabetic spends a lot of time with need to know what it looks like when a person is hypoglycemic.

* Acting "out of it" — My husband says one of the first ways he knows when I'm crashing is that I start acting "out of it" or not as alert. This goes along with the lack of concentration I talked about above — in other words, what I'm feeling also is noticeable in my behavior. I might also say things that don't make much sense, or demonstrate an inability to follow a simple conversation.

* Sudden, unexplainable anger — I've noticed that when I crash, I am much more prone to anger. I've also talked to people who have been around diabetics a lot, particularly diabetics with hypoglycemia unawareness, and often they pick up on the anger before the diabetic actually realizes they are crashing.

* Shaking or unsteadiness — I feel shaky, dizzy, and unsteady when I am crashing, and sometimes actually have a hard time with large and fine motor tasks (I stumble when walking, fumble while opening a bottle, etc.). This is all stuff that an observer should be able to pick up on.

* Pale or sweaty skin — When my blood sugar crashes I usually start feeling inexplicably hot and sweaty. Supposedly pale skin goes along with this. One of the things I do outwardly is to kick the covers off if I crash while sleeping.

If you are with a diabetic who starts showing outward symptoms of hypoglycemia, request nicely but firmly that they check their blood sugar. Sometimes someone who is crashing will actually resist being told to check their sugar, which makes it all the more important that they do it anyway. And of course, if they pass out or are near passing out, call 911 immediately and use their glucagon kit (if they have one on them).

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