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Diabetes Mellitus

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Our focus this week is on Diabetes Mellitus, which is a very common problem, but very few people know about it. It is a condition in which the body fails to produce sufficient amounts of insulin, a chemical that regulates blood sugar (glucose) levels. As a result sugar builds up in the blood and can cause hyperglycemia (high sugar). People with diabetes mellitus have to control their blood sugar with diet only, or diet and insulin injection or tablets. Too much insulin or too little sugar can cause hypoglycemia (low sugar). People with diabetes mellitus may carry their own blood-testing testing kits with which to check their blood –sugar levels. For emergences they carry sugar lumps or glucose in case they feel” hypo”. If the hypo attack is at an advanced stage, consciousness may be impaired or lost and there is need for medical help.

Hyperglycemia (high sugar)

High blood sugar over a long period can result in unconsciousness. Usually the casualty will drift into this state over a few days. Hyperglycemia requires urgent attention in a hospital.


Warm, dry skin, rapid pulse and breathing
Fruity \sweet breath, and excessive thirst.
If untreated, drowsiness, then unconscious

What to do

If unconscious, place casualty in recovery position.(lie casualty on his\her stomarch)
Monitor and record vital signs (level of response, pulseand breathing)
And seek medical help.

Hypoglycemia (low sugar)
When blood sugar level falls below normal, brain function is affected. This condition is characterized by rapid deterioration in levels of response.
Hypoglycemia can occur in people with Diabetes Mellitus and more rarely, appear with an epileptic seizure or after an episode of heavy alcohol drinking or as part of hypothermia or heat exhaustion.
N.B. Healthy people can get hypoglycemia if they miss meals. Eating too little carbohydrate and exercise will worsen the problem.


  • A history of diabetes; the casualty may recognize the onset of a “hypo” attack
  • Body weakness, faintness or hunger
  • Palpitations or muscle tremor (shaking)
  • Strange actions or behavior; the casualty may seem confused, angry or may shout
  • Sweating and cold, clammy skin
  • Pulse may be strong and rapid
  • Deteriorating levels of response (may be come unconscious)
  • Diabetic’s warning cards, glucose gel, tablets, insulin syringe or a warning bracelet.

What to do

Help the casualty to sit or lie down. Give a sugary drink, sugar lumps, chocolate or other sweet food.
If casualty gets better give more food or drink and allow to rest until fully recovered
If there is no improvement, seek medical help and continue monitoring vital signs.
If unconscious, place in recovery position, whilst you wait for medical help.

N.B. Diabetes is not infectious, so you cannot ‘catch’ it from someone who has it.
Diabetes is serious and can kill.

Comparing Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia

Hyperglycemia                                              Hypoglycemia

  • Eaten excessively                               under eaten or missed meals.
  • Not enough insulin for                          Too much insulin for amount of food

amount of food eaten                             eaten

  • Onset of symptoms is gradual                           It is rapid
  • Always thirsty                                        Not thirsty
  • Not hungry                                             Hungry
  • Vomiting is common                             Uncommon
  • Excessive urinating                                Normal
  • Fruity\sweet odour                                 Normal
  • Breathing is rapid                                   Normal
  • Pulse is rapid and weak                          Rapid and strong
  • Warm and dry skin                                 Pale and cold, with sweating
  • Seizures not common                             common
  • Feels drowsy                                          Rapid loss of consciousness

Note: The above show the differences between the two. If you have any of the symptoms, go to your nearest clinic or hospital.
St John Ambulance, as a service to the public, gives this information to you. For these and more come to 102 Baines Avenue Harare.

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