Did you know that there are over 5 million people with Diabetes in the UK (equivalent to more than 1 in 14 people)? The majority of these are living with type 2 diabetes, with the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes having almost doubled in the last 15 years. The number of people under 40 in the UK being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is rising at a faster rate than the over-40s.*


There are 2 main types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes: the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes: the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin.


Many more people have blood sugar levels that are above average but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

This is known as pre-diabetes. Your risk of developing full-blown diabetes is increased if your blood sugar level is above the normal limit.

So what do we look out for?

Recognising Diabetes

Often people do not realise that they have diabetes and, because of this, their blood sugar can reach dangerously high levels. We call this hyperglycaemia. As a first aider, you are not likely to recognise undiagnosed diabetes, due to the nature of the signs and symptoms. However, if you recognise the symptoms in yourself you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

Possible Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycaemia)
  • Sweet smelling breath (sometimes described as being similar to nail varnish remover or pear drop sweets)
  • Increased thirst & dry mouth
  • Excess urination (especially at night)
  • ‘Sweet smelling’ urine
  • Tired and lethargic
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush, cystitis, or bladder infections.
Possible Signs and Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycaemia)
  • Irritable, sometimes aggressive behaviour
  • ‘Drunken-like’ behaviour, slurred speech, uncooperative
  • Shaking
  • Tingling lips
  • Fast pulse & palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Extreme hunger
  • Dizzy, weak, tired, confused
  • Lowered levels of response, or unconsciousness.
First Aid Treatment of Low Blood Sugar

When someone has been diagnosed as a diabetic, their blood sugar levels can often be controlled with medication, diet, and exercise.

The difficulty is that if someone is taking a set amount of insulin, their blood sugar level may actually drop too low, for example, if they have skipped a meal, or have been more physically active than usual.

As a first aider, this is the more likely situation that you would recognise.

What to do
  • Sit the casualty down in a quiet place
  • The casualty could take glucose tablets, drinks or gels. If not available a handful of sweets, or a sweet drink such as, cola (not diet).
  • If their level of consciousness is low, glucose gel, honey or jam could be massaged onto the inside of their cheeks.
  • If improvement is seen, give more to eat and drink, but avoid fatty foods such as chocolate or milk.
  • If there is little or no improvement or the person is aggressive call an ambulance
  • If the casualty becomes unconscious, use your emergency plan, checking the airway and breathing, and following the steps of your plan as appropriate.
When to See a Doctor

If you experience the main symptoms of diabetes, visit your GP as soon as possible. These symptoms may include:

  • Feeling very thirsty & dry mouth
  • Peeing more frequently than usual, especially at night
  • Feeling tired
  • Weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
  • Blurred vision
  • Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush, cystitis, or bladder infections
  • “sweet-smelling” urine
  • “sweet-smelling” breath (sometimes described as being similar to nail varnish remover or pear drop sweets)


When attending one of our courses, you’ll have the opportunity to get hands-on and practice these life-saving skills in a relaxed and friendly environment. We do this to maximise your confidence and productivity!

Take a look at all our available courses here


*Information cited from ‘Diabetes UK’ spring statement 2024.


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