Driving with Type 1 Diabetes
Driving With Type 1 Diabetes
You already keep a spare tire in your car in case of a flat, so prepare for a diabetic emergency, too.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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When you have type 1 diabetes, you know that your well-being depends on balancing your blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose levels drop dangerously low, you develop hypoglycemia. If they get too high, you experience hyperglycemia. These extremes can result in sleepiness, confusion, blurred vision, loss of consciousness, and seizure.
Radical changes in your blood glucose levels can pose a problem at any time, but can be particularly dangerous if you are behind the wheel of a car. Studies show that people who have type 1 diabetes are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes and have more moving violations than people without diabetes. This is why monitoring blood glucose levels is so important if you are a driver, and why you should check them before you get behind the wheel. If your levels are too low, don’t even think about turning the key in the ignition.
Diabetes on the Road: What to Keep in Your Car
Type 1 diabetics "should carry a sugar source with them in their pocket, and they should keep some in the car," says Jennifer Goldman-Levine, PharmD, a diabetes educator and associate professor of pharmacy practice at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston.
When you are feeling like your blood sugars are low, you can use that sugar source to raise your levels. You should keep snacks in your car as well, so you can have something to eat once the sugar source gets your blood glucose levels under control.
Another car essential is an extra blood glucose meter. "Most physicians' offices have free glucometers," says Dr. Goldman-Levine. “It might be a smart idea to have more than one."
Diabetes on the Road: Stay Alert to Early Signs of Hypoglycemia
Watching for signs of hypoglycemia can let you know when you need to pull over.
People with type 1 diabetes "have to learn to listen to their bodies. If your stomach is rumbling, it is probably time to eat," says Goldman-Levine.
Goldman-Levine also lists the following warning signs of hypoglycemia:
- Fast heartbeat
- Severe irritability
Immediately pull off the road to a safe place when you notice any of these signals, since you may not be aware of hypoglycemia once it really sets in.
Diabetes on the Road: Handling an Event
After taking your sugar source, wait 15 minutes to see if you are feeling better before driving again, says Goldman-Levine. Use that extra glucometer you put in your car to determine when your blood glucose levels are back under control and it is safe to drive again. She says that if you are still feeling like your levels are low, take another sugar source and wait another 15 minutes. If that doesn't help or if you are having severe symptoms, call 911.
Diabetes on the Road: Prevent Complications
Besides dangerous shifts in your blood sugar levels, diabetes-related complications such as vision problems and nerve damage that causes numbness in your feet can impair your driving. Work to prevent these complications by following your medical team's recommendations for keeping your blood glucose levels under control.
Video: Driving with T1D
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