A diabetic coma is a serious complication of diabetes resulting in a state of unconsciousness. The individual can be unresponsive to touch, sounds, or even pain. Diabetic comas can be caused by either extremely high or extremely low blood sugar levels.
The major causes of a diabetic coma include diabetic ketoacidosis, diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome, and hypoglycemia. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body lacks enough insulin to allow sugar in the blood to be absorbed for energy. This condition causes the body to use fat for energy instead of sugar and causes toxins, called ketones, to build up as a result. Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome, which occurs when the blood sugar gets very high to the point that blood thickens, causes the individual to urinate more, and eventually leads to severe dehydration and even higher blood sugar levels. Diabetic coma can also result from developing hypoglycemia, a condition of extremely low blood sugar.
Common symptoms of very high blood sugar include thirst, frequent urination, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fruity breath odor, and rapid heartbeat. Symptoms of very low blood sugar include shakiness, fatigue, anxiety, sweating, hunger, nausea, dizziness, difficulty speaking or confusion. Risk factors for a diabetic coma include poorly managed diabetes, illnesses such as an infection, increasing age, and alcohol consumption.
A diabetic coma is a medical emergency. Left untreated, it can be fatal. Treatment depends on the cause of the coma and focuses on correcting the imbalances of the body. Effective management of diabetes can prevent progression to diabetic coma as well as many other complications. If a family member is in a diabetic coma, talk with their doctor and specialists about the most current treatment options. Reaching out for support to those in your family or friend network, a support group or through hospital social workers may help you during this stressful time.