Diabetic Hyperosmolar Syndrome

What is Diabetic Hyperosmolar Syndrome?

Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome is a serious complication that is sometimes experienced by diabetic patients, most commonly those with type 2 diabetes. It occurs when the body consistently produces dangerously high blood sugar levels. As a result, the body attempts to flush out the excess blood sugar through increased urination. If it is not treated, it can become life threatening or even fatal.

While the condition often develops in response to an infection or illness, it can also be caused by certain medications – including corticosteroids, diuretics, and anti-seizure drugs – and failure to follow an adequate diabetic treatment plan. Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome can also appear as a result of undiagnosed diabetes. Patients are more likely to experience it if they are over age 65 with a chronic health condition in addition to diabetes.

What are the Symptoms of Diabetic Hyperosmolar Syndrome?

Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome develops over a period of several days or even weeks.

Symptoms include

  • Persistent high blood sugar
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fever
  • Increased urination
  • Warm dry skin
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Drowsiness
  • Vision loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma

Additionally, the condition can lead to serious complications such as shock, stroke, blood clots, brain swelling, heart attack, and seizures.

Diabetic Hyperosmolar Syndrome Causes

Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome is caused by a number of factors. An individual with extremely high blood sugar levels, maintained over an extended period of time, will very likely contract this condition. Just as susceptible is someone who isn’t drinking enough water, as extreme dehydration can produce the same health hazards as a condition of very high glucose levels. In cases where the individual loses consciousness, they may also develop diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome.

While diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome most often occurs in people who have type 2 diabetes and have poorly managed their condition, diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome can also develop in people who have not been affected by diabetes. In those cases, the condition can be instigated by infection, illness (such as a stroke or a heart attack), medications or conditions that result in fluid loss, or by medicines that decrease the effectiveness of insulin on the body.

How is Diabetic Hyperosmolar Syndrome Treated?

Prompt medical care is essential to preventing diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome from becoming a threat to the patient’s life. At the beginning, the focus will be on treating the loss of water. By simply doing this, blood pressure will improve, as will circulation and urination habits. It will also help blood sugar levels return to normal. To do so, potassium, insulin, and fluids are given intravenously. The condition can usually be corrected within a few hours.

Afterwards, any underlying medical conditions and infections that are determined to have contributed to the onset of diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome will be treated as well to prevent recurring episodes.

Diabetic Hyperosmolar Syndrome Prevention

Preventing the onset of diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome can be achieved by taking proper care of oneself, especially where the individual has already been diagnosed with diabetes. The primary course of action is to keep a close eye on one’s blood sugar level and recognize the symptoms of an increase of sugar. Additionally, be aware of exposure to illness or injuries, because those situations can also increase the risk of diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome.

During illness, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, though make sure to drink the types of fluids that will be beneficial in keeping the body hydrated. Non-alcoholic, caffeine-free beverages are recommended, but water is the best option in these circumstances. Also, sticking to a pre-arranged diabetic management plan is essential to maintaining a good state of health. This may require adjustments to one’s diet, physical activity, and stress management.

Finally, ensure family, friends, and colleagues know the early warning signs of high blood sugar, so they can call for emergency assistance in the event of a fainting spell. The individual should also wear a medical I.D. bracelet, so one’s condition will be known to first responders.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 14, 2017
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