Being prepared in the event of an emergency is important, especially if you have a chronic health condition like diabetes.

Putting together a diabetic emergency kit can be both reassuring and practical, helping you feel safer while traveling or in daily life. But knowing what to put in your kit may feel confusing at first.

There are premade diabetic emergency kits you can buy, but making your own is often best. This way you can tailor it to your specific needs. The general rule of thumb is to make sure you have enough diabetic supplies in your kit to last at least 1 week.

We’ll break down common and recommended supplies to help you decide what goes in your own diabetic emergency kit.

The inside of your kit will look different depending on what kind of diabetes you have and your personal needs. Before going into diabetes-specific medical supplies, let’s go over what personal identification and medical information you should include.

In case of an emergency, bystanders should be able to know your name and who to call.

In a worst-case scenario, it’s important for any first responders to know what medications you take and any other health conditions you have that could affect your care.

Your medical information should be put in a sealed (waterproof) plastic bag and should include:

  • a list of any other medical conditions you may have
  • any medication allergies
  • copies of your prescriptions with up-to-date dosages
  • basal rates, insulin-to-carb ratio, blood sugar target, insulin sensitivity factor, and correction factors for your insulin pump
  • names and phone numbers for your pharmacy and doctor’s offices
  • an emergency contact’s information
  • make, model, and serial number of your insulin pump or glucose monitor
  • copy of your photo ID and health insurance card

Supply-wise, you should pack enough for at least 1 to 2 weeks. Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Diabetes Disaster Response Coalition suggest including the following items:

  • insulin and syringes for each injection
  • glucose meter
  • extra batteries for the glucose meter and insulin pump
  • lancets and lancing devices
  • insulin pump supplies, including extra pump sets and insertion devices
  • glucagon kits
  • alcohol wipes
  • glucose tablets (you can also pack quick carbs like honey, juice, or hard candy)
  • oral diabetes medication
  • empty plastic bottle or sharps container
  • water

Store everything according to the manufacturers‘ instructions. Check your emergency kit often to keep track of expiration dates and replace old supplies with new ones.

While one thorough, well-supplied kit is enough for many people, some may feel more comfortable with a large kit and a small kit. Others may prepare multiple kits to keep in separate places, like a car or at work.

Think about what would make you most comfortable and prepare accordingly.

Many of the medical supplies will be marked with an expiration date. When putting your kit together, make notes of the expiration dates and clearly label each item. These will need to be replaced if not used, and you might find it helpful to set reminders to rotate items out.

You can use supplies up to avoid wasting them, and replenish the kit if you do so.

Insulin has two expiration dates — for when it’s unopened and opened.

Most types of insulin recommend use within 28 to 30 days after opening. If you are refrigerating your kit, the unopened insulin can last several months. Make sure you read the instructions on your prescription for detailed storage information.

If you have multiple diabetic emergency kits, keep in mind that their lifespans will differ depending on how you store them. For example, a kit in your car that includes insulin will need to be replaced more frequently than a refrigerated kit at work.

If your emergency contact number, insurance policy, or medical records change, it’s important to update these parts of the kit as well.

Temperature matters

Here are some key tips for getting the most out of your diabetic emergency kit and preventing damage:

  • Aim for room temperature or refrigeration.
  • If you cannot refrigerate your insulin, the CDC recommends the ideal temperature for storage is between 59 and 86°F (15 to 30°C).
  • Avoid storing your kit somewhere in the direct sun or where it could be damaged by water.
  • Don’t allow your kit to be frozen, and don’t use frozen insulin (even after it thaws), as it loses its effectiveness.
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Aside from having a diabetic kit for scenarios like natural disasters, power outages, or a national security event, medical emergencies directly related to diabetes can happen.

Having all of your supplies in one place makes things easier to handle, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your equipment is right there if you need it.

Knowing what diabetic emergencies look like and how they occur can help you be prepared. Educating your family, friends, and even co-workers about how they can help if you experience a diabetic emergency can help everyone feel more prepared.

Contact emergency medical services right away if you believe you or a loved one is experiencing a diabetic emergency.

Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS)

A potentially life threatening condition, hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS) can occur when blood sugar becomes very high. The kidneys then try to alleviate this by removing some glucose through urination.

Symptoms may include:

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urination
  • fever or sweating

If you don’t drink enough fluids to replace what you’re losing, blood sugar levels get higher and your blood becomes more concentrated. This is called hyperosmolarity, which leads to water being taken from organs, including the brain.

Illnesses that cause dehydration or lower insulin activity can cause HHS in those with diabetes. In particular, older adults with type 2 diabetes are at risk of HHS.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)

A complication of type 1 diabetes, and more rarely type 2, is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This occurs when the blood sugar is very high and the level of ketones (acidic substances) in the blood becomes dangerously high.

DKA happens when there’s not enough insulin to process high blood glucose levels. It may be the first symptom of undiagnosed type 1 diabetes for some people.

Some hallmark symptoms of DKA include:

At-home urine tests can be used to help monitor your ketones so a DKA emergency can be avoided or detected. Treatment involves replenishing your body’s fluids and stabilizing your blood sugar with insulin.

Diabetic coma

A diabetic coma can happen when blood sugar levels are either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia).

If blood sugar is too high, your body can become dehydrated and cause you to lose consciousness — the brain needs glucose to function. Typically, there is enough time to prevent hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia from getting serious enough to cause a diabetic coma.

Check your glucose levels if you start noticing signs of high or low blood sugar, such as:

  • fatigue
  • feeling flushed
  • upset stomach

Seek help immediately for more severe symptoms like:

  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • weakness

Treating a diabetic coma requires prompt hospitalization so doctors can monitor your vitals and stabilize your blood sugar. Patients often can recover fully and will need to develop an updated treatment plan for their diabetes.

If left untreated, a diabetic coma can lead to brain damage or death.

Low blood sugar events

Experiencing a drop in blood sugar (a “low blood sugar event“) is quite common in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This usually refers to incidents of hypoglycemia that are relatively mild and can be treated at home.

A major 2016 study reports that 4 out of 5 patients with type 1 diabetes and nearly half of those with type 2 diabetes experience a low blood sugar event at least once a month.

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Insulin shock

When there is too much insulin in your blood, this is called insulin shock. Insulin shock causes low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, and its symptoms. It can happen both while you’re awake or asleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), symptoms can include:

  • dizziness
  • shaking
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • hunger
  • incoherence

Situations that can lead to insulin shock may look like:

  • taking too much insulin by accident
  • missing one or more meals
  • doing too much exercise without changing carbohydrate intake

Short-term treatment consists of eating a quick-acting carb or glucose tablet and testing your blood sugar in 15 minutes. You can also take glucagon in severe cases. If your blood sugar doesn‘t rise, seek medical attention.

Insulin shock is very treatable, and mild cases can be resolved at home with your diabetic supplies. However, if left untreated, insulin shock can lead to:

  • loss of consciousness
  • seizure
  • diabetic coma
  • death

Everyone’s body is different, and each person may need different things in their kit based on their diabetes type and medical history.

In addition to putting your kit (or kits) together and maintaining them regularly, consider talking with your doctor about what to do in case of emergency so you can feel better prepared.

Here are some helpful questions you can ask:

  • Based on my type of diabetes and medical history, are there specific diabetic emergencies I’m more at risk for?
  • How do I know if I can handle an emergency on my own, or if I need to call 911?
  • Do any of my other medical conditions contribute to my risk of having an emergency?

Symptoms of diabetic emergencies like DKA or insulin shock can come on suddenly, and knowing what to do can make all the difference.

While premade kits are available, assembling your own diabetic emergency kit allows you to be best prepared for an emergency by meeting your individual needs.

A well-equipped kit should be a thorough collection of your medical information and essential supplies, including:

  • insulin
  • glucose monitor
  • snacks
  • water

It’s important to be aware of expiration dates and update your kit regularly. Ideally, keep the kit refrigerated or at room temperature and avoid extreme heat, cold, and wetness.

Knowing you have everything you need in case of a diabetic emergency like DKA or insulin shock can help empower you and alleviate stress. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of common diabetic emergencies, and don’t hesitate to seek medical assistance.