19 January 2019
Healthy diet is key to preventing and controlling diabetes. Patients and those vulnerable to the illness should carefully monitor their daily intake of sugar. Photo: Internet
Healthy diet is key to preventing and controlling diabetes. Patients and those vulnerable to the illness should carefully monitor their daily intake of sugar. Photo: Internet

Acute complications of diabetes

Diabetes is one of the common chronic illnesses noted in our city. If patients fail to put their blood glucose level under control, not only will they develop higher risks for various chronic complications, they will also be in danger of suffering from acute complications such as hyperglycemia or hypohlycemia that could result in death if left untreated.

At present there are about 700,000 diabetic patients in Hong Kong, meaning one out of every 10 citizens has been diagnosed with the chronic illness.

According to International Diabetes Federation, Hong Kong could have 920,000 people, or 13 percent of the population, with diabetes by 2030.

Top reasons for the illness are unhealthy diet, obesity and lack of physical exercise. Data from the Department of Health of Hong Kong suggests that 40 percent of the citizens are overweight. What is worse, the problem is in an uptrend.

At the ward I often receive new patients with acute complications like hyperglycemia or hypohlycemia. While signs and symptoms of both could be difficult to take notice, it is important for the patients and their families to stay alert for any signals.

If action is not taken at the right time, the patient could develop a life-threatening condition or slip into coma.

Why would someone allow their blood glucose level to become abnormally high, which turns themselves unconscious?

The most common reason for it is that these individuals are undiagnosed!

Elevated blood glucose could make people feel thirsty, tired or lose weight. But these early symptoms are too subtle and patients can fail to detect the problem. The condition might become noticeable only when a person has a severe infection or open wound, or had a stroke, where the level would rise further.

As for those who are already diagnosed with diabetes, they will have high blood sugar if they forget to take their medicine or eat too much or their insulin injections are not up to the required dosage.

When it persists, symptoms of hyperglycemia would include needing to pee frequently, increased thirst, abdominal pain, nausea, and breathing difficulties. In serious cases, patients could fall into a daze or collapse. The death rate could be up to 40 percent when diabetic ketoacidosis or a hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state is noted.

In contrast, hypohlycemia is a medical condition in which a person is having abnormally low blood sugar. It occurs if a patient misses a meal or takes too much insulin or an overdose of other medicine.

People would have symptoms like fast pulse, sweating, trembling, dizziness, blurred vision, etc.

What is worse is asymptomatic hypoglycemia, which often occurs in elderly patients as their parasympathetic nervous system and the defense mechanism begin failing.

It is particularly dangerous if the patients are unaware of their critical condition, recognizing the problem only when they lose consciousness or experience a severe seizure.

Low blood sugar could increase risks for heart diseases and dementia in the long run.

Diabetic patients should closely monitor their blood glucose level and seek medical assistance when readings suggest abnormalities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 25

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Acute symptoms of diabetes include abdominal pain and dizziness. Photo: Internet

Specialist in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

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