Diabetes First Aid: How To Manage The Silent Illness

Written by | 13 Nov 2017

Diabetes has become a global epidemic with prevalence increasing dramatically across the board. In less than four decades the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. Currently diabetes is directly affecting 5.5% of the world’s population and many remain undiagnosed or are likely to develop the disease later in life.

Globally, the statistics are alarming and nationally they remain dire. Currently there are approximately 1 million Australians suffering from the silent disease and 280 Australians develop the illness every single day.

Diabetes is an around the clock illness which has primary and secondary effects on its sufferers and those around them. On November 14 each year, World Diabetes Day aims to raise awareness of the relentless disease and the impact is has on those affected.

There is little known about what causes diabetes but it is suggested that genetics, excess weight and a lack of physical activity may play a key role in the development of the disease. Uncontrolled diabetes can quickly become a medical emergency where casualties can even slip in to a coma. With the increase in those suffering from diabetes, there is a growing possibility the First Aider may encounter a diabetic emergency, so it’s time we talk about the disease and understand its impact on the lives of those around us.

Follow our guide on diabetes, the consequence of the illness and how to provide First Aid in a diabetic emergency.

About World Diabetes Day

The International Diabetes Foundation created World Diabetes Day in 1991 in an attempt to combat the diabetes epidemic. It focuses on starting a conversation and connecting sufferers from all around the globe.

The dramatic increase in diabetics around the world is a real example of the health threat the disease has on the future of the global community. In particular, statistics have revealed the numbers of women suffering from the illness are growing at rapid rates, making this a focus for the 2017 campaign.Diabetes

The campaign concentrates on the significant role that affordable and accessible information and treatment plays in aiding those at risk of or living with diabetes. It is imperative that sufferers and their families have access to information on prevention, required medicine, technology and self-management processes to aid them throughout their diabetes journey.

The Statistics

The diabetic epidemic is no secret; most people know someone suffering from the disease, but just how many people does this illness affect and what does it mean for the wider community?

Diabetes

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a consequence of a disorder of the pancreas. In simple terms, as part of the digestive process when food is consumed the body works to break it down into sugars which are then absorbed into the bloodstream and converted into energy. In diabetes, the production and function of insulin is compromised. This creates a build-up of sugars in the blood and cells don’t receive the energy they require.

*Insulin is a hormone that your body needs to let sugar (glucose) into your cells to produce energy

Different Types Of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes; type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Each type has a serious impact on bodily functions and has significantly different signs and symptoms. Here’s how the three types compare:

  Type 1 Type 2 Gestational
When
Childhood, adolescence
Sometimes in adulthood
Adults (in particular 45 and above)
During pregnancy
Signs & symptoms
Incessant thirst and hunger pangs, frequent need to urinate, unexplained loss of weight, fatigue, blurred vision
Mild feelings of thirst and hunger, frequent need to urinate, fatigue, blurred vision, tingling and numbness in the hands or feet
No noticeable signs or symptoms
Rarely an increase in thirst or urination may be noticeable
Short-term risks
Hypoglycaemia*
Hyperglycaemia*
Hypoglycaemia*
Hyperglycaemia*
Delivery of the baby may be complicated
Baby is at risk of developing low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia) immediately after birth
First Aid for a Diabetic Emergency
First Aid treatment for all three types of Diabetes is the same. See below for more details on First Aid for hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia
Long-term risks
Eye disease
Nerve damage
Kidney disease
Heart disease and stroke
Gum disease
Eye disease
Heart disease and stroke
Sleep apnoea
Hearing loss
Kidney disease
Nerve damage and lower limb complications
If left untreated the baby is at a higher risk of breathing problems, obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life
Developing type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy
Long-term treatment
Insulin therapy
Monitoring of blood glucose levels with diet, exercise and medication when necessary (insulin therapy)
Diet maintenance and nutritional adjustment, regular exercise
Insulin therapy (rare)

If you think you might have undiagnosed diabetes or are at risk of developing the disease you can complete the International Diabetes Foundation risk assessment online here.

The Differences Between Hypoglycaemia And Hyperglycaemia

  Hypoglycaemia Hyperglycaemia
Cause
Hypoglycaemia* is when your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels begin to drop. It is the more common and dangerous type of diabetic emergency.
Hyperglycaemia* is when your blood glucose level starts to climb.
Signs and symptoms
Rapid heartbeat
Sweating
Whiteness of skin
Anxiety
Numbness in fingers, toes, and lips
Sleepiness
Confusion
Headache
Slurred speech
Excessive thirst
Headache
Trouble concentrating
Blurred vision
Frequent urination
Nausea/vomiting
Shortness of breath
Dry mouth
Confusion
Abdominal pain

People often assume someone with hypoglycaemia is intoxicated, as the symptoms can be similar. When in fact they may be close to slipping in to a coma, so always check for diabetes bracelets or tags and even try asking them. Even if there is alcohol on their breath, they could still be suffering from an episode, and alcohol can make a diabetic more prone to having hypoglycaemia.

Diabetes First Aid for an Emergency

If a casualty is unconscious:

  1. Follow DRSABCD
  2. Call triple zero (000) for medical assistance

If a casualty is conscious and signs suggest low blood sugar:

  1. Give them sugary drinks or foods in 15 minute intervals until they recover or medical assistance arrives
  2. Seek medical assistance if required

If casualty is conscious and signs suggest high blood sugar:

  1. Seek medical assistance
  2. Give them sugar-free fluids to drink if help is delayed

Note: if you are unsure whether the casualty is suffering from low or high blood sugar, give them a sugary drink. Consuming a sugary drink will not have an immediate negative impact if the casualty is in fact suffering from high blood sugar.

Often, those suffering may refuse your help due to their impaired mental state, particularly with hypoglycaemia. If this is the case, persist as much as you are able to by offering them a sugary drink and monitoring the response. Do not give diet type drinks, as these don’t contain the much needed sugar.


As one of the fastest growing diseases in the world it is critical that the community understands the ramifications of this life-changing disease. It’s important that people are aware of the risk factors for diabetes and what they can do to prevent or delay the onset of the illness.

There are a range of resources available for people at risk and those who have been diagnosed to rely on to help them through their unique diabetic journey. If you or someone you know is at risk of diabetes, visit your GP to discuss the illness further.

With increased awareness, resources and accessibility to information and treatment, the community as a whole can recognise and combat a diabetic emergency to save more lives.