Diabetes: When to Call the Doctor

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Taking care of your diabetes includes knowing when to call a doctor and get medical help. As you learn more about diabetes, you'll become more confident about knowing when to call for help.

Getting Help

Even if you're managing your diabetes on your own, it's a good idea to tell your mom or dad when you're feeling sick or having any symptoms that might be related to your diabetes. Having this parental support can be a huge help. Your mom or dad can help you get in touch with your doctor to prevent things from getting serious or even take you to the emergency department if you need it.

If you're having a problem, start by checking your diabetes management plan. The plan can give you ideas on when and where to call for help.

For many medical problems, it's best to start by calling your primary doctor, like your pediatrician or family doctor. In some cases, though, your diabetes management plan might advise you to call someone else on your diabetes health care team.

What Should I Tell the Health Care Team?

If you need to see a doctor or get medical care, health care professionals may ask about:

  • your symptoms, like whether you've been throwing up or feeling more tired than usual
  • your blood glucose levels
  • your urine ketone levels
  • your temperature
  • any prescription medications you're taking and the phone number of your pharmacy
  • any foods and drinks you've had
  • whether you've had any drugs or alcohol

If you have time, it can help to write down this info before you visit the doctor.

What to Do if You're Sick or Injured

If you're ill, especially if the illness causes fever, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, or if your ability to eat or drink has been affected, call your doctor.

You should also let your doctor or diabetes health care team know if you:

  • have had a significant injury (more than a minor cut, scrape, or bump)
  • are going to be having surgery
  • have been prescribed new medications for another health problem (some medications may affect blood sugar levels)

If you think a situation is an emergency, tell someone to call 911 or help you get to the emergency department. If you are alone, don't hesitate to call your doctor or 911.

What to Do if You're Having Diabetes Problems

Your diabetes management plan may tell you to call your doctor or get emergency medical care if you have diabetes problems such as hyperglycemia, ketoacidosis, or hypoglycemia.

Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia happens when the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood is higher than it should be.

You should call your doctor if you have high blood sugar levels throughout the day or if you find your blood sugar level is always high at the same time each day.

You should seek medical care right away if, in addition to high blood sugar, you have symptoms or signs of hyperglycemia like:

  • drinking or urinating (peeing) a lot more than normal
  • nausea or vomiting
  • deep, rapid breathing
  • ketones in your urine

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

When the body can't use glucose for fuel, it breaks down fat for energy instead. When fat is broken down, the body produces chemicals called ketones, which appear in the blood and urine. High levels of ketones cause the blood to become more acidic, a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Ketoacidosis can make you very sick if you don't get help.

You should seek medical care right away if you have symptoms of ketoacidosis like:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • deep, rapid breathing
  • drowsiness or confusion

Obviously you can't drive yourself to the emergency department if you're feeling very sick. If you think you're in ketoacidosis, tell someone (a parent, teacher, or a friend) to take you to the emergency department or call 911.

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia occurs when the level of glucose in the blood is lower than it should be. People with diabetes may experience hypoglycemia (also called low blood sugar) if they don't eat enough or if they take too much glucose-lowering medication (such as insulin).

You should check your diabetes management plan if you have low blood sugar and feel:

  • hungry
  • shaky
  • sweaty
  • weak
  • drowsy
  • dizzy

The plan can tell you what to do to treat hypoglycemia. You should always treat hypoglycemia first, then call your doctor. That's because people with diabetes can develop more serious symptoms if their blood sugar drops lower.

You should call your doctor if you're having hypoglycemia a lot.

You or a parent, teacher, or coach should call for emergency medical help if you are:

  • confused
  • feel like you're going to faint
  • having seizures

Your parents, teachers, and coaches should all know how to help you in case of a low blood sugar emergency or they should know to call 911. It might also help if you tell your close friends or people you work with about serious diabetes symptoms you might experience and when they should call 911 if they see you having them.

Other Reasons to Call a Doctor

Sometimes people with diabetes can become overwhelmed and have a hard time coping with the disease. This is very common, especially in teens. If you find that you feel sad all the time, want to eat or sleep a lot or not at all, or you're thinking about suicide, your doctor can be a resource for you if you don't feel comfortable talking to a parent or teacher. He or she may refer you to a counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional who can help you understand more about why you feel the way you do and help you figure out ways to feel better.

Preventing Problems

If hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, fatigue, or other symptoms happen at the same times every day, your diabetes health care team may need to adjust your diabetes management plan. Doing this can help to prevent some major diabetes problems, so make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.

You can also head off major diabetes problems by always carrying a few things with you, like your testing supplies, snacks, diabetes medications, and your contact information (like your address, phone number, and your parents' cell phone numbers).

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2009

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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