• Diabetic Emergencies: How To Help

    What is a diabetic emergency?

    There are two types of diabetic emergencies:

    • Hypoglycemia (excessive low blood glucose levels) results if a person misses a meal or snack, eats too little food, exercises more than usual, vomits or takes too much medication.
    • Hyperglycemia (excessively high blood glucose levels) results if a person eats too much food, takes too little medication, exercises less than usual or has an infection.

    Emergency Steps


    Check the scene safety, form an initial impression, obtain consent and put on PPE, as appropriate.


    Check for signs and symptoms.

    • Trouble Breathing*
    • Fast or deep breathing
    • Seizures
    • Confusion
    • Unresponsiveness
    • Cool, clammy skin
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Appearing intoxicated
    • Trouble walking
    • Irritability or aggressiveness
    • Fruity, sweet breath odor
    • Dizziness, weakness or shakiness
    • Sweating
    • Known history of diabetes
    • Increased urination

    *Note: Signs and symptoms with a * require immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Call 9-1-1 and get equipment if the person requires immediate attention.


    Give Care.

    Diabetic Emergencies FAQs

    What are good sources of sugar to use in a diabetic emergency?

    Good sources for 20 grams of sugar include:

    • Glucose tablets, liquid or gel
    • Orange juice (7 ounces)
    • Milk (14 ounces)
    • Candies with fructose or sucrose, such as:
      • 20 to 25 skittles
      • 2 strips of fruit rolls
      • 10 to 20 jellybeans

    Note: For children who may be uncooperative with swallowing, you can give them a slurry of sugar and water under their tongue that will dissolve.

    The person is acting like they are under the influence of alcohol. Is that normal?

    Yes. A person experiencing a diabetic emergency may appear to be under the influence of alcohol. For example, the person may slur their words or have difficulty walking. Interviewing the person (or bystanders) may help identify the true cause of their signs and symptoms.

    Some people have high blood sugar levels, so won't giving them sugary drinks or food make their diabetic emergency worse?

    No. Some people may have high blood sugar as part of their diabetic emergency. If you can’t tell whether the person's sugar is low or high, it is good to give some sugar. The volume of sugar you give will be lifesaving if the person’s blood glucose is low and will not have a major negative impact if the person’s blood glucose is high.

    Why can’t I give the person a diet drink?

    Don't give them a diet drink because it doesn’t have sugar in it. Diet drinks use artificial sweeteners, which won't have the same effect as regular sugar drinks.

    What is glucagon? How is it used?

    Glucagon is a hormone that stimulates the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. Some people with diabetes may be prescribed a glucagon kit that they can carry with them in case of a severe hypoglycemic emergency. You can assist them with this medication. Those who spend significant amount of time with the person (e.g., family members, teachers, coaches, co-workers) may receive additional training in how to administer a glucagon injection. If there is someone around who can administer glucagon, encourage them to give it if the person meets the indications they have been taught.

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    Information Provided the Scientific Advisory Council (SAC)

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