Insulin shock occurs when you have too much insulin in your blood. This can lead to hypoglycemia, also called low blood sugar.
Insulin shock may occur if someone:
- ignores mild hypoglycemia
- takes too much insulin by mistake
- misses a meal completely
- does excessive unusual exercise without changing their carbohydrate intake
Insulin shock is a diabetic emergency. If left untreated, it can lead to diabetic coma, brain damage, and even death.
Having too much insulin in your blood can lead to having too little glucose. If your blood sugar falls too low, your body no longer has enough fuel to carry out its regular functions. In insulin shock, your body becomes so starved for fuel that it begins to shut down.
If you have diabetes and use insulin to help control your blood sugar, you can end up with excess amounts in your blood if you inject too much insulin or miss a meal after injecting insulin.
Other possible causes include:
- not eating enough
- exercising more than usual
- drinking alcohol without eating any or enough food
If your blood sugar drops a bit below normal, you may experience mild to moderate symptoms, including:
- nervousness or anxiety
- rapid pulse
At this stage, you can usually take immediate steps to recover. Eating 15 grams of quick-acting carbohydrates — such as glucose tablets or high-sugar options like fruit juice, raisins, honey, or candy — can help stabilize your blood sugar and reduce symptoms.
After 15 minutes, test your blood sugar. If your blood sugar has improved, you’ll want to eat a small smack to help your body fully recover — but otherwise you should be fine.
If your blood sugar isn’t increasing, try eating another 15 grams of carbohydrates, followed by a meal. If you blood sugar is not increasing after repeating this step again, contact your doctor or visit the emergency room.
Plummeting blood sugar can also cause:
- poor coordination, tripping, and falling
- muscle tremors
Insulin shock can also happen in the middle of the night. In that case, the symptoms may include:
- crying out in your sleep
- waking up confused or very irritable
- very heavy sweating
- aggressive behavior
When we consume food or beverages that contain carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar that fuels the body, giving it the energy it needs to perform everyday functions. Insulin is a hormone that works like a key. It opens the door in the body’s cells so they can absorb glucose and use it as fuel.
People with diabetes may lack enough insulin or have cells that aren’t able to use insulin as they should. If the cells of the body aren’t able to absorb the glucose properly, it causes excess glucose in blood. This is called high blood glucose, which is linked with a number of health issues. High blood glucose can cause eye and foot problems, heart disease, stroke, kidney problems, and nerve damage.
Insulin shots help people with diabetes use glucose more efficiently. Taking an insulin shot before eating helps the body absorb and use glucose from the food. The result is a more balanced and healthy blood sugar level.
Mild to moderate hypoglycemia can normally be treated as described above. If you start experiencing the symptoms of severe hypoglycemia, however, it’s time for more aggressive treatments. If you or someone near you begins to experience insulin shock, take these steps:
- Call 911, particularly if the person is unconscious.
- Treat as outlined above unless the person is unconscious. Don’t give an unconscious person something to swallow as they may choke on it.
- Administer an injection of glucagon if the person is unconscious. If you don’t have glucagon, emergency personnel will have some.
Insulin shock is not a pleasant experience. But there are things you can do to prevent it from happening.
Follow these tips to reduce your risk of experiencing severe hypoglycemia and related problems:
- Keep glucose tablets or hard candy for times when your blood sugar dips too low.
- Eat after taking your insulin shot.
- Always ask your doctor how to use a new medication.
- Eat a snack if your blood sugar is under 100 milligrams per deciliter before exercise or if you’re planning on doing more exercise than normal. Keep a carbohydrate snack with you when exercising. Talk to your dietitian about the best things to eat before exercise.
- Be cautious when drinking alcohol. Talk to your doctor about safe levels of consumption.
- Be cautious after vigorous exercise, as it can lower blood sugar for hours after the workout.
- Test your blood sugar often.
- If you experience symptoms while driving, pull over immediately.
- Inform family and friends of the symptoms of hypoglycemia so they can help you if you start experiencing it.
- Ask your doctor for glucagon, since all people on insulin should always have glucagon available.
- Wear a medical ID so emergency technicians can treat you quickly.
With the proper precautions, you can manage your diabetes and your insulin medications to keep your blood sugar levels steady.