Over the last decade there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of Americans being diagnosed and treated for diabetes. Many of these individuals are using some form of insulin (long-acting, short-acting, or a combination of both) to counteract high blood sugar. The regulation of sugar levels can be particularly tricky, leading to a condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) if not managed appropriately, causing dangerous and potentially deadly outcomes. Recently, in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers published information regarding increased emergency visits due to hypoglycemia, especially among the elderly population.
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes require the monitoring and treatment of blood sugar levels to keep them within normal range. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body's inability to generate the insulin necessary to regulate blood sugars. Type 2 diabetes occurs when there is a decline in the body's ability to effectively utilize insulin for sugar management. While high blood sugar levels are dangerous, this recent study indicates that hypoglycemia from insulin treatment is resulting in nearly 100,000 emergency visits yearly.
Hypoglycemia can cause significant changes in functioning, including impaired mental status, vision changes, fainting, and seizures. In most cases, symptoms of hypoglycemia manifest as irritability, sweating, hunger, and shakiness, but they can be deadly. As sugar levels remain consistently low, mental status and functioning gradually decline.
In a review of over 8,000 insulin related emergency visits, researchers found that many were related to low blood sugar. Of these, they found that the elderly were significantly more susceptible to low hypoglycemia. Experts speculate that the increase in these visits, especially for the elderly, was caused by:
- Improper management of fast-acting and slow-acting insulin
- Impairment of vision and motor control
- Impaired ability to communicate needs to caregivers
Effectively managing blood sugar levels can help prolong an individual’s health and quality of life, for people of all ages. In order to minimize the risks of high and low blood sugar, individuals should:
- Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen
- Regularly consult with a primary care physician
- Monitor blood sugar
levels multiple times daily
- Track changes in sugar levels from eating and insulin management
- Be particularly cautious when using fast-acting and slow-acting insulin
- Keep sugar, glucose gel
, candies, and other items nearby to treat hypoglycemia