What is the deal?
Unfortunately, diabetes can often be misrepresented in first aid courses. This can leads to confusion about what exactly diabetes is, and the differentiation between type 1 and type 2.
I often get asked ‘do you have the one with high sugar levels or low sugar levels’. This confusion comes from miseducation about diabetes.
So, lets dive into what first aid teaches, and more importantly how we can turn this into a positive learning point.
How does first aid teach diabetes?
In the UK, first aid courses teach diabetes as having two types:
- Low blood sugar
- High blood sugar
This creates the idea that type 1 means low blood sugar, and type 2 means high blood sugar. With there already being a big misconception about diabetes, I think this adds to misinformation.
Furthermore, first aid states casualties with diabetes must always be given sugar. If someone living with diabetes is unconscious or acting ‘like they are drunk’ it is most likely down to hypoglycaemia (low sugars). BUT, this behaviour could also be due to high blood sugar. This means giving sugar can sometimes do more harm than good.
How can education about diabetes be improved?
Rather than teaching diabetes this way, first aid should focus on teaching what diabetes actually is!
It is as simple as saying; type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas stops producing insulin (usually from a young age), and type 2 diabetes is when there is enough insulin, it just doesn’t work correctly. Both types of diabetes can cause high AND low blood sugar.
What to do if a person living with diabetes needs first aid
When I talk to people about diabetes, this is what I advise if a diabetic is unconscious, or has lost the ability to help themselves:
- Call an ambulance if the diabetic cannot help themselves
- Check their sugar levels if possible
This is becoming ever easier with the latest tech, so look at their upper arms or the stomach for an FGM or CGM monitor (like in the picture). You can use their phone or scanning device to look at their sugar levels for more information:
- A low blood sugar reading = give them a source of fast acting glucose, (preferably a drink high in sugar with around 15g sugar).
- A high blood sugar reading = do not do anything, wait for paramedics to arrive. NEVER inject insulin, only the person with diabetes should ever do this.
Most often, people living with diabetes will be able to feel if they have low glucose, so the majority of the time they might just ask you to get them a sugary drink. If this happens, stay with them until their sugars reach a safe level. (In this case an ambulance is not needed).
If sugars remain low after 15 minutes, give them another sugary drink until levels rise.
As a summary:
- Low glucose = 15+15 (15g sugar, wait 15 minutes)
- High glucose = wait for ambulance, or if they can take some insulin, stay with them until it kicks in
Thank you for reading First aid and diabetes education! I hope this makes diabetes less confusing, and you learned something new! Be sure to subscribe and follow me on Instagram!