Why is sugar a First Aid treatment for diabetics and why do diabetics get sugar as a First Aid treatment when it seems counterintuitive? Logically it feels like the wrong thing to do, so why do we give sugar to diabetics when they pass out or enter a diabetic coma?
When a person with diabetes enters a diabetic emergency, their blood sugar levels have fallen too low, often causing them to collapse without warning. Giving them sugary drinks and sweets will help raise their blood sugar levels and improve their bodily functions, allowing them to regain consciousness and then eat a normal meal to replenish a deficient supply of glucose.
Exactly What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition stemming from the pancreas. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. There are lesser-known categories in which temporary gestational diabetes and medication side effects cause diabetes. For this article, we will concentrate on types 1 and 2.
The Mayo Clinic explains what diabetes is and how it works.
Diabetes is a disease where your body either cannot produce enough insulin or cannot use the insulin produced effectively. Glucose is fundamental to humans as our body uses glucose as its energy source, and foetuses strip it from the mother to grow and become healthy babies.
The food you eat in its natural, non-processed form consists of three basic nutrients: Fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. As your stomach digests food, chemicals in your stomach break down carbohydrates, converting them into glucose. That glucose is then absorbed into your bloodstream and carried around the body to feed the muscles and organs in the same way we fill up our vehicles with petrol from a bowser.
However, glucose metabolism needs to be kept in check and to do this it requires insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas of which there is only one inside a human body. Your pancreas keeps everything balanced and responds to the glucose by releasing insulin. To be specific, insulin is responsible for allowing glucose into your body’s cells to give them the energy refuel. For a lateral approach, think of it like this. When the glucose enters your cells, the amount of glucose in your blood falls in the same way a fuel tank drains when you pour petrol from the tank below the bowser into your vehicle.
Type 1 Diabetes
If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t produce enough or secrete insulin. Without insulin, the glucose in your bloodstream builds up until the tank is overflowing because the glucose fuel can’t get into your cells to refuel them, and you end up with high blood sugar levels. Often blurry or fuzzy vision will also be present.
People with type 1 diabetes require artificial insulin in the form of insulin injections that allow the glucose to fill up the cells and enable the body to function normally. Type 1 diabetics are born with this genetic condition, and it cannot ‘fix’ itself as they grow older. Type 1 diabetics have diabetes for life and depend on their insulin medication.
In some isolated cases, a pancreas-only transplant might be an option for chronic type 1 diabetics with the finances if a compatible organ donor can be sourced. For a donor pancreas to be available, the donor must have passed away recently and had the organs removed by a medical professional. The donor pancreas must possess a compatible tissue type. Even then, success is not guaranteed.
People with type 2 diabetes are another issue entirely!
If you have type 2 diabetes, your pancreas secretes less insulin or fuel than your body requires as it has become resistant to the fuel. Think of type 2 diabetes as your body requiring diesel fuel but only having unleaded in the tank. Your engine can’t run on the wrong fuel without breaking down and causing problems.
With both types of diabetes, the glucose your stomach makes cannot be used for energy, so it builds up in your bloodstream with nowhere to go, causing potentially serious, sometimes fatal, health complications.
When your “blood sugar” or “blood glucose” levels rise higher than normal, you develop hyperglycaemia. Hyper means high. Hypo means low.
So, someone who is hyperglycaemic has high blood sugar levels and too much glucose in their bloodstream and needs to get rid of the excess fuel. How does it do that?
The fastest way to reduce hyperglycaemia is to take fast-acting insulin. Exercising is another rapidly effective means to lower blood sugar levels in the body after the insulin has been administered. Exercise burns calories meaning the cells discharge their fuel load and require constant refuels from the excess glucose in the bloodstream.
The Cause Of Type 2 Diabetes
The truth is that we are still working to find a definitive cause of type 2 diabetes. However, scientists have concluded that processed foods with hidden salt and sugar in high quantities appear to be the main culprit in developed worlds where food is plentiful and have bad eating habits or overeating. The tendency to eat food high in calories and sugar but not work off that deficit daily leads to gaining weight and, over time, morbid obesity.
Locating the precise point at which a previously healthy pancreas suddenly stops working entirely or only puts in a small baseline contribution is still open to debate and discovery.
Type 1 diabetes is genetic.
Type 2 diabetes is self-inflicted, and it can, with the aid of medical assessment, a better diet and increased exercise, over time be reversed and corrected. That is great news for people diagnosed with type two diabetes. It doesn’t have to be a life sentence unless you choose for it to become one.
So Who Gets The Sugar When They Collapse?
I mentioned hyper and hypo earlier. If we give insulin to hyperglycaemic people, it means the answer you seek has to the Hypoglycaemic person. The person with low blood sugar levels or no fuel in the browser for the cells to draw energy from.
If you or someone else has hypoglycemia symptoms, you require a quick glucose hit. Eating or drinking regularly is the best way to counter a low blood sugar level. It can also be found in glucose tablets, gels, jellybeans, barley sugar or a piece of fruit. Other options include honey, soda, sugar cubes, fruit juices and candy.
In lieu of having the above, eat anything with fast-acting carbohydrates. These are sugary foods or drinks without protein or fat easily converted to glucose in the stomach. Things like condensed milk, caramel, fudge and toffee, or liquid flavoured milks that are not sugar-free or diet in nature.
What If I Give The Wrong Diabetic First Aid To The Person?
If you haven’t already gained certification in First Aid, now is the perfect time to jump online and book yourself onto the next available course nearest to you! In that course, you will learn about First Aid management and treatment for people with diabetes.
The current best practice, regardless of the type of diabetes, as a First Aid responder, if they have collapsed, or are feeling like they will, is to give them a hit of sugar. The small amount of sugar won’t do any further harm to someone who is already hyperglycaemic.
The current practice is to err on the side of caution and give a sugary hit as the first line of treatment. If the person is in a state of hypoglycaemia, they will quickly come good once the sugar is converted into glucose in their bloodstream. Once they come good, they should eat a normal meal with juice or soda to replenish the depleted glucose levels.
If the person is hyperglycaemic, they will not respond to the sugar hit, and by the time you have established this, the ambulance should be in attendance or close to it. They will then administer insulin and take it from there.
Most diabetics, regardless of their diagnosed type, wear a medic alert bracelet and carry candy on them for an emergency. Most cases are mild and can be easily managed at home, at school, or at work without requiring emergency services. However, if the person is unconscious or falls unconscious after eating sugary food, immediately dial 000 in Australia, 911 in America and 999 in the UK.
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