Insulin Shock Therapy

Insulin Shock Therapy

Insulin shock is also referred to as “severe hypoglycemia” or “diabetic shock”.  It is one of the most serious complications of diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes.  It is the result of injecting too much insulin so that the blood sugars drop to dangerous levels.  It can also be due to not eating enough to cover for your insulin dose and increasing your physical activity so that you use up glucose at too fast a rate.

In the beginning, the symptoms of insulin shock are minor.  You may feel a little hungry, dizzy, sweaty, or slightly confused.  If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to act quickly because, if you become unconscious as a result of insulin shock, it is much more difficult to treat because you cannot eat or drink anything to bring the blood sugars back up.

Insulin shock can be life threatening.  This is why it is important for you to recognize the early signs of the condition and for your family to know how to treat the disease should you become unconscious and need medical attention right away.


HypoglycemiaHypoglycemia is another name for “low blood sugar”.  Under normal conditions, the cells inside your body make use of glucose that is absorbed by the GI tract after you have eaten some carbohydrates. Insulin is then released by the pancreas in order to bring the blood glucose into the cells to allow for cellular metabolism.  Insulin in normal people rarely leads to insulin shock but instead bring the blood glucose levels into the normal range.

Hyperglycemia and Diabetes

High blood sugar can be dangerous as well. It can cause diabetic ketoacidosis and dehydration, which can threaten your life.  If the blood sugar is left untreated, there can be secondary complications, such as diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), diabetic retinopathy (eye damage), diabetic nephropathy (kidney failure), stroke, and heart disease.

Under normal conditions, you make just enough insulin to keep the blood glucose levels from being too high or from being too low.  If you have insulin resistance or type 1 diabetes (the result of autoantibodies to the pancreas), you may need to take exogenous (outside) insulin.  Because this is harder to regulate compared to normal conditions, insulin shock can happen if you give yourself too much insulin.

The amount insulin you take depends on how much insulin your body is already making, the foods you eat, and on how much you are exercising.  The cells require more fuel when exercising so you need more insulin and need more blood glucose to feed the cells.  If you give too much insulin, you can develop hypoglycemia and insulin shock.

Causes of Insulin Shock

There can be many reasons why a diabetic might go into insulin shock.  These include the following:

  • You forget to eat your meal and take your insulin anyway
  • You exercise more than you are used to
  • You drink too much alcohol and forget to eat
  • You take your insulin at the wrong time and don’t cover it by eating
  • You change the amount you eat
  • You change the timing of your meals with respect to the timing of your insulin

Warning Signs of Insulin Shock

Symptoms of insulin shock vary according to how severe the condition is.  For example, in the early stages of insulin shock, you can develop behavioral changes, hunger, irritability, dizziness, sweating, tremulousness, and rapid heart rate.

If the insulin shock is moderate, you can experience the above symptoms, with the addition of poor physical coordination, headache, and confusion.  If the shock is severe, it can result in seizures, unconsciousness, coma, and possibly death.

If you develop insulin shock in your sleep, you can have any one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Nightmares
  • Waking up confused, irritable, or fatigued
  • Excessive sweating in your sleep
  • Crying out when sleeping

If you experience any of the above warning signs of insulin shock, you need to check your blood glucose levels as soon as possible.  If the sugar level is low, you can eat or drink something sugary in order to prevent the blood glucose levels from falling any further.

If you can’t treat the low blood sugar yourself, you need to have a family member assist you or you need to call for emergency services. The paramedics have ways of bringing the blood sugar up, even if you are unconscious.

Treatment of Insulin Shock

If the low blood sugar is only mild or moderate, you can manage it yourself by increasing your blood sugar. It means you must quickly eat or drink something that is sugary.  You can buy glucose tablets at the pharmacy that can quickly bring up the blood sugar levels.  If you don’t have glucose tablets, you can drink fruit juice (a half a cup) or you can eat several pieces of hard candy.

Other choices include dissolving sugar cubes in water and drinking it, eating a fourth of a cup of raisins, taking a tablespoon of honey or sugar, drinking a cup of milk, or drinking a half of a cup of sugary soda.  Do not drink diet soda as this has no sugar in it and will not bring up your blood sugars.  There are still other choices for bringing up the blood sugars that you can find out from your nutritionist or physician.

After you have had something to eat or drink, you need to wait for about 15 minutes and then you should check your blood sugar again.  If it continues to be low, you should eat or drink something else and recheck the sugar after another 15 minutes.  Repeat this until the blood sugar level returns to normal.

If the insulin shock is severe and you become unconscious, you need emergency help.  Your family members and friends should learn how to recognize insulin shock and should know what to do.  Dialing 911 is a good option as the paramedics have ways of bringing up the blood sugar in unconscious people.

They make a special kit, called a “glucagon rescue kit” that will bring up your blood sugars.  It is something that can be done by a family member if they know how to use it.  Glucagon is a type of hormone that quickly brings up the blood sugar.  Glucagon can be injected by a family member or paramedic should you be unable to eat or drink anything due to unconsciousness.


Diabetic Shock and Insulin Reactions. Accessed 5/21/16.

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