DUI-Like Warning Signs of Diabetes - 8 News NOW

Paula Francis, Anchor

DUI-Like Warning Signs of Diabetes

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Fourteen people are recovering after being hit by a car on the Las Vegas Strip. A car jumped the curb just north of Harmon. Police say the driver of the car suffered a diabetic seizure behind the wheel, which caused him to lose control.

The driver is charged with failure to maintain a travel land. He could face more serious charges.

Police would have to prove that he was intentionally negligent, but they say that would be difficult.

That driver is not a rarity on the roads. In fact, at any given time 15 to 20-percent of drivers on the road are diabetics. Understanding the symptoms of a reaction can be a challenge.

It's not uncommon for the symptoms of a diabetic reaction to appear as alcohol intoxication. And depending on the type of diabetes a person has, the body gives warning signs that it's probably not a good idea to be driving.

Henderson resident Bob Maxwell is a former police officer and a Type-2 diabetic. He says it's easy for the untrained eye to mistake a diabetic reaction for drug or alcohol intoxication.

"We pulled up on a car that was off to the side of the road and a lady was in it and she was just stone-faced and couldn't roll down the window. Couldn't respond to our questions. So we had to get into the car to make sure she was okay. But she was having a diabetic reaction," Maxwell said. 

Las Vegas endocrinologist Fred Toffel says the state of confusion along with slurred speech is brought on by hypoglycemia when blood sugar levels drop below a certain point for a sustained period of time.

In Type-2 diabetics, the condition occurs in phases and warning signs may be apparent.

Dr. Toffel explained, "Most people start getting hungry, or start breaking out into a sweat, or getting heart palpitations, and these are the common signals of hypoglycemia. If they don't pay attention to these signals and the blood sugar keeps dropping, then they're going to start getting confused, sometimes even combative."

In Type-1 diabetics, however, people who've had the disease for a long time, may skip the more subtle warning signs and go straight to trouble.

'Their first signal will be the confusion. The brain is stopping to work," Dr. Toffel continued.

Bob Maxwell has himself experienced these drunk-like symptoms. He says the loss of control is scary and he always carries a diabetes identification card just in case.

And what's also similar to alcohol intoxication is that the diabetic may not have any recollection of having an episode.

Unfortunately, a breathalyzer test does not necessarily clear someone who hasn't been drinking. Low blood-sugar levels can cause the production of acetones that give off the smell of alcohol on the breath, and lead to false-positive readings.

E-mail your comments to Anchor Paula Francis or Medical Producer Rick Andrews.

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