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Diabetic Coma


Disease: Diabetic Coma Diabetic Coma
Category: Endocrine and metabolic diseases

Disease Definition:

By definition, coma is a state of unconsciousness. One of the serious and life-threatening complications of diabetes is a diabetic coma. A diabetic coma may be the result of a dangerously high hyperglycemia or a dangerously low hypoglycemia in a person with diabetes. Lapsing into a diabetic coma doesn’t mean a person is dead, but mainly that he/she won’t be able to awaken or respond purposefully to sights, sounds, or other kinds of stimulations. Diabetic coma could be fatal if left untreated. The risk of diabetic coma is small and preventable despite the fact that its prospect is scary. Following a diabetes treatment plan is one of the ways of avoiding diabetic coma.

Work Group:

Symptoms, Causes


A person will experience signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) before a diabetic coma.



A person with a very high blood sugar level may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent urination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth



A person with a very low blood sugar level may be:

  • Sweaty
  • Confused
  • Nervous or shaky
  • Hungry
  • Tired
  • Irritable


Diabetic coma may be due to various conditions that result from prolonged blood sugar extremes.


Diabetic ketoacidosis:

The body may break down fat stores in case the muscle cells become starved for energy. Toxic acids called ketones will result from this process. Diabetic coma may result in case diabetic ketoacidosis is left untreated. Even though diabetic ketoacidosis can occur in people with gestational diabetes or type 2 diabetes, but it usually occurs in people with type 1 diabetes.


Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome:

Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome is when a person’s blood sugar level tops 33 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) or 600 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The blood will become thick and syrupy in case the blood sugar gets this high. The excess sugar will pass from the blood into the urine, triggering a filtering process that draws massive amounts of fluid from the body. Loss of consciousness and life-threatening dehydration may result in case diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome is left untreated. Older adults with type 2 diabetes experience diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome more commonly.



In order to function, the brain needs glucose. A person may pass out in some severe cases of low blood sugar. People who take too much insulin or skip meals or snacks experience hypoglycemia more commonly. This condition may also occur due to drinking too much alcohol or exercising too vigorously. The symptoms of hypoglycemia are affected by how fast the blood sugar drops. For instance, a person may experience only minimal symptoms in case his/her blood sugar drops 50 mg/dL (3 mmol/L) in a few hours. However, the person will experience more severe symptoms in case his/her blood sugar drops the same amount in a few minutes.



Permanent brain damage can be the outcome of an untreated diabetic coma. It may also be fatal in some cases.


Whether a person’s blood sugar is too high or too low will determine the type of emergency treatment for a diabetic coma.


Blood sugar that is too high:

In order to restore water to the tissues, a person with very high blood sugar will be given intravenous fluids. To help the cells function correctly, the person may need sodium, potassium or chlorine supplements. To help the tissues absorb glucose again, short-acting insulin may be used after enough fluid has been replaced. In case there are any underlying infections, they will also be treated.


Blood sugar that is too low:

In order to raise the blood sugar level of a person with extreme hypoglycemia, he/she may be given an injection of the hormone glucagon.


Whenever the blood sugar reaches a normal level, the person usually becomes conscious again. 


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