Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Hypoglycemia Symptoms
Why a Short List Is Not Enough

by Celia Kirkman, RN, CDE

Typically, a person passes from an agitated stage to a more docile stage, when it may be easier to get him to drink juice or to eat something. But the docile stage precedes the passing out stage, leaving little room for comfort. Even though dealing with an agitated person is difficult, it is better to at least try to get him to eat or drink than to simply wait until his blood glucose level drops even lower. Keep in mind that it will take a while for a person’s blood glucose level to rise and that anyone who has needed assistance treating hypoglycemia should not be left alone until his blood glucose is in a safe range and he shows signs of good judgment.

Hypoglycemia while driving
For obvious reasons, it is important for people with diabetes to recognize symptoms of hypoglycemia while driving and to pull over to treat it. However, two common early symptoms of hypoglycemia, shaking and sweating, are often not noticed while driving. Why? If you are gripping the steering wheel, you may not notice fine tremors in your fingers, and if you are driving in hot weather, you may assume that sweating is due to the weather.

One way to lower your chances of experiencing low blood glucose while driving is to establish a minimum safe blood glucose level for driving with the help of your health-care provider and to always check your blood glucose level before driving. If you’re taking a long trip, plan to pull over and check your blood glucose level every two hours, eat all snacks and meals on schedule, and share the driving with someone else.

Taking such steps greatly increases the likelihood of a safe drive, but unfortunately, even the best prevention can’t guarantee that you won’t develop hypoglycemia. That’s why it’s good to know about some symptoms of hypoglycemia that are typical of (if not unique to) driving. Two typical characteristics of a driver with hypoglycemia are that he develops a sort of one-track mind, in which continuing to drive becomes the sole goal, and that he loses the ability to remember where he is or how to get to his final destination. A driver may, for example, miss the exit to a familiar destination, drive steadily in one direction with no change in driving speed, or drive for many miles beyond his destination. Other peculiar driving behavior reported by family members of people driving with hypoglycemia include stopping at all traffic lights no matter what the color of the light.

Often, passengers are the first to notice that something is awry. However, if you are alone in the car and have the sense that you’re lost or don’t know where you’re going, you should pull over as soon as it’s safe and check your blood glucose level. (If you don’t have a meter with you when you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, you should go ahead and treat without checking.) You should do the same if you recognize any other possible symptoms of hypoglycemia such as double vision.

Because of the increased responsibility that comes with driving, you should confirm that your blood glucose has returned to a safe level after consuming some carbohydrate before resuming driving. Even if you’re in a hurry, you need to change your priorities, especially before resuming a long trip, to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

Wearing or carrying medical identification specifying that you have diabetes is always a good idea, and it’s especially true while driving. If you pass out at the wheel or are driving erratically because of hypoglycemia, other drivers and the police may assume that you’re drunk. In addition, if your blood glucose level is so low that you do not recognize the authority of the police, you may argue or fight with an officer who pulls you over or approaches you, increasing the likelihood that he’ll think you’re under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

 

 

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