Diabetic Coma Symptoms – Educate and Inform

diabetic comaDiabetic Coma Symptoms can be very challenging to recognize. The problem stems from the fact that the signs and symptoms are often seemingly harmless and ignored. There are a couple of different ways a diabetes related coma can develop and the signs change slightly depending upon the individual circumstances.

A diabetic coma can result typically from three different conditions:

  • Hyperglycemia (diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome)
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Essentially, these conditions in order are: abnormally high blood sugar, low blood sugar and increased ketones (toxins in the blood). I will take a look at each of these conditions and the various symptoms that are typically present.

Symptoms Resulting from Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia is when your blood sugar gets too high. When your blood sugar gets higher than 600 mg/dL the condition is known as diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome.

Basically, your blood is awash in glucose and it goes into over drive trying to get it out, usually through urination. This process leaves you very dehydrated, ultimately resulting in a coma if left untreated.

You need to watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Increased Thirst
  • Frequent Urination
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Fruity Breath Oder
  • Stomach Cramps or Pain
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Tired or Fatigued
  • Vomiting or Nausea

Often the excessive thirst and urination can occur over a period of weeks, which is what results in becoming dehydrated, as your body struggles to rid itself of the excess glucose.

While any diabetic can develop a coma from hyperglycemia, it typically occurs in Type 2 diabetics over 60 years old.

Symptoms Resulting from Hypoglycemia

coma symptoms
Hypoglycemia is just the opposite. It results when your blood sugar gets too low. Why does this occur? Bottom line is that your body needs glucose. If you do not get enough, or you produce too much insulin, then your blood sugar can drop to unsafe levels. Boozing it up or exercising to hard can also cause hypoglycemia.

You need to watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Tired or Fatigued
  • Sweaty
  • Increased Hunger
  • Irritable, Angry, or Aggressive
  • Confused
  • Irregular or Rapid Heartbeat
  • Nervous or Confused

Wow, I experience almost all of these symptoms on a daily basis! Insidiously, sometimes there can be no symptoms at all for this condition.

Again, like hyperglycemia, diabetic coma caused by hypoglycemia can occur in all types of diabetics. However, it is more common in Type 1 diabetics.

Symptoms Resulting from Ketoacidosis

Ketones are toxins in your blood that develop when your body converts your fat stores into glucose energy. This process can occur when your cells are not getting enough energy (i.e. glucose) from other sources such as food.

If too many ketones are built up in your blood, you can develop diabetic ketoacidosis. This condition can in turn result in a diabetic coma

You need to watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Excessive Thirst
  • Lost Appetite
  • Fatigue or Weakness
  • Abdominal Cramp or Pain
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Fruity Smelling Breath
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Frequent Urination

These symptoms can develop rather quickly, often with 24 hours. Typically, this condition is most occurs in Type 1 diabetics, but can occur in Type 2 and Gestational diabetics, as well.

The difficulty with ALL of the diabetic coma symptoms above is that they can often simply be signs of the flu or other common sickness.

Bottom Line

Developing a diabetic coma is an extreme condition. Nonetheless, it can and does occur. How do you reduce the odds of prevent it?

  • Develop and Maintain a Self Management Plan: Stick with your meal and exercise plan. Take your medications.
  • Avoid Bad Habits. Ease off the alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • Inform Your Friends, Family and Co-workers of Symptoms.
  • Monitor your Blood Glucose and Ketone Levels Frequently. ( We compare all Blood Glucose Meters)
  • Wear a Medical ID Bracelet.

As always, please speak with your health care provider about diabetic coma symptoms and your self-management plan.


Mayo Clinic

By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed May 2012.