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Diabetic Complications: Hypoglycemia, Ketoacidosis, Diabetic Neuropathy

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes, while fundamentally different diseases, are both very serious. Each requires careful monitoring. High blood sugar is toxic to all parts of the body, from the tiny capillaries in the eye and kidneys to the deep tissues in the arms and legs. The consequences of this type of damage are permanent and in some cases life-threatening. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Potential Short-Term Diabetic Complications
The most serious short-term complication for type 1 diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis and it can be fatal. Missing insulin therapy injections, infections or stress may trigger ketoacidosis.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis: Ketones are a by-product of fat metabolism. In people with diabetes, the body uses fat for energy if insulin is not available to utilize blood glucose. This can result in the toxic accumulation of ketones in the blood — a life threatening condition if not treated promptly. The build up of ketones changes the pH of the blood, making it acidic. If the blood gets too acidic it can lead to severe damage of the body's organs.

The best way to protect against diabetic ketoacidosis is to carefully follow your physician's instructions, which usually are as follows:
  • Monitor blood sugar levels 4 times a day or as recommended.
  • Take insulin therapy shots as prescribed.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise.
  • Balance daily carbohydrate/protein/fat intakes; avoid empty fast food calories.
  • Manage or eliminate stresses through lifestyle changes.
Hypoglycemia: Choosing to ignore the precautions could lead to another complication known as hypoglycemia or insulin shock. If a person has too little food or too much alcohol, the blood's sugar level drops. Become familiar with the symptoms of hypoglycemia and seek immediate medical attention should any occur:
  • rapid heartbeat
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • sweating.
Hyperglycemia: Hyperglycemia is the opposite of hypoglycemia: It indicates high blood sugar levels. Like hypoglycemia, it is a common complication that everyone with diabetes experiences at some point. Left unchecked, it can cause the body serious damage. Hyperglycemia is caused by not getting enough insulin or getting the wrong dose, a lack of exercise, eating too many carbohydrates, sickness or emotional stress. Liver sugars can also push blood sugar to dangerous levels.

While hypoglycemia symptoms are likely to be apparent, symptoms of hyperglycemia can be hard to spot. The person suffering from hyperglycemia may not even notice anything is wrong.

Symptoms resulting from high blood sugar levels include:
  • hunger or thirst
  • frequent urination
  • dry skin
  • itchy skin
  • sleepiness
  • high rates of infection
  • blurred vision
  • diminished ability to heal scrapes, cuts or other wounds.
Like hypoglycemia, the best precautions involve careful attention to medications and meal plans, and frequent monitoring of blood sugar levels.

Playing it Safe

Emergencies happen, despite all attempts at diabetic control. You may find yourself in a situation where people need to know that you have diabetes, but you can't tell them. A medic-alert bracelet could save your life in such circumstances. Even a note in your wallet explaining that you're diabetic, along with a list of any medications you're taking or are allergic to, could save your life in an emergency.

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Last modified 18 September 2006
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