Insulin overdose can occur accidentally or intentionally. Accidental overdoses are more common and can happen due to various reasons like mismatched insulin doses with meals or switching dosing between different types of insulin. This can be a serious issue and needs immediate attention.

When you take too much insulin, your blood sugar levels drop too low. This can make you feel very sick and might even lead to serious health problems. It is important to know the symptoms of insulin overdose and how to manage them quickly.

In this article, you will learn about the symptoms of insulin overdose, how to recognize them, and the steps to get relief. Understanding these key points will help you manage your health better and avoid the dangers of insulin overdose.

Key Takeaways

  • Insulin overdose can occur accidentally or intentionally, leading to dangerously low blood sugar levels. It is crucial to recognize the symptoms and seek immediate medical attention.
  • Symptoms of insulin overdose include shakiness, nervousness, sweating, fast heartbeat, confusion, fainting, seizures, and loss of coordination. Severe symptoms require urgent medical intervention.
  • If someone experiences mild hypoglycemia due to insulin overdose, they should consume 15 grams of fast-digesting carbohydrates recommended by the CDC. If symptoms persist or worsen, seeking medical help is n\
  • 4 mg/dL, immediate medical attention is crucial. Unconsciousness due to insulin overdose requires calling 911 without delay.
  • Treatment for insulin overdose involves administering intravenous dextrose to raise blood glucose levels rapidly. Steroids and glucagon may also be used to counteract the effects of excess insulin.
  • Hospitalization may be necessary to closely monitor blood sugar levels and provide supportive care, especially in severe cases of insulin overdose. Prompt medical help and following the healthcare provider’s instructions are essential to avoid complications.

Can you Overdose on Insulin?

A man lying on the bed, clutching his head due to hypoglycemia

Yes, it is possible to overdose on insulin. Insulin is crucial for moving glucose from the blood into cells for energy. Without sufficient insulin, glucose accumulates in the blood, leading to hyperglycemia. Insulin also helps store excess glucose in the liver for later use and balances blood glucose levels. While insulin is a life-saving medication for people with diabetes, taking too much can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels, known as hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia occurs when the body produces too much insulin, which causes blood sugar levels to drop too low. It can happen if someone takes more insulin than their body needs, misses a meal, exercises more than usual without adjusting their insulin dose, or experiences an imbalance between insulin and carbohydrate intake. 

People can experience an insulin overdose for a few key reasons:

  • Accidental overdose: This is the most common cause and can happen when someone with diabetes takes too much insulin, either by miscalculating their dose, injecting the wrong type of insulin, or accidentally injecting twice for the same meal.
  • Intentional overdose: Insulin may be used intentionally to attempt suicide, either by the person with diabetes themselves or by a relative. In these cases, the person should receive urgent psychiatric evaluation and care after the low blood sugar is treated.
  • Dosing errors: Taking the wrong type of insulin (e.g. rapid-acting instead of long-acting), miscalculating the carb content of a meal, or missing/delaying a meal after injecting can lead to an accidental overdose. Symptoms depend on how low the blood sugar drops, ranging from mild confusion to seizures and coma if very low.
  • Underlying medical conditions: Certain medications like steroids can increase insulin needs, while exercise improves sensitivity and reduces needs. Illness and nausea can also contribute by reducing food intake after an insulin dose.

Did you know?

According to a study, there were a total of 109 cases of insulin or hypoglycemic drug overdose. Among these cases, 71 were classified as suicide (65%), 25 as accidental poisoning (23%), and 13 as homicide (12%). Insulin was the most commonly used drug in these cases (95.4%).

Insulin Overdose Symptoms

When someone takes an excess amount of insulin, it can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Here are the symptoms associated with insulin overdose:

Mild Hypoglycemia

  • Feeling shaky
  • Being nervous or anxious
  • Sweating, chills, and clamminess
  • Irritability or impatience
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

If you experience these symptoms, seeking immediate medical attention is essential. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends consuming 15 grams of fast-digesting carbohydrates (such as glucose tablets or high-glucose foods like grapes, soda, fruit juice, or honey). Your symptoms should improve within 15 minutes of eating. If they persist or worsen, seek medical help promptly.

Severe Hypoglycemia

A healthcare professional typically diagnoses severe hypoglycemia if your blood sugar reading is below 54 mg/dL. Severe symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Unusual behavior or inability to complete routine tasks
  • Loss of coordination
  • Blurry or tunnel vision
  • Inability to eat or drink
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness

Remember

If someone becomes unconscious due to an insulin overdose, call 911 immediately. Remember that intentional insulin overdose is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe brain damage, coma, and even death. If you suspect the effects of insulin overdose, seek medical help promptly. Always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions regarding insulin dosages and management to avoid complications.

Insulin Overdose Treatment

A man lying on the bed, clutching his head due to hypoglycemia

Insulin overdose can be a serious situation, and prompt treatment is essential. Here are some approaches to treatment for insulin overdose:

  • Glucose Administration: The primary treatment for insulin overdose involves providing intravenous (IV) dextrose (a sugar solution) to raise blood glucose levels rapidly. Glucose can be administered directly into a vein to counteract the effects of excess insulin. In severe cases, central line placement may be necessary to administer concentrated glucose solutions like D20W or D50W1.
  • Steroids: Steroids, such as hydrocortisone, can be used to raise blood sugar levels. They are especially useful when IV dextrose alone is insufficient. Steroids help prevent prolonged hyperglycemia and facilitate titration1.
  • Glucagon: Glucagon is an alternative to glucose. It can be administered via injection to raise blood sugar levels. Glucagon stimulates the liver to release stored glucose into the bloodstream.
  • Monitoring and Supportive Care: Hospitalization may be necessary to monitor blood sugar levels and provide supportive care closely. Electrolyte imbalances and other complications should be addressed.

How Do You Treat an Insulin Overdose At Home?

Don’t panic. Most insulin overdoses can be treated at home.

  • Check your blood sugar level.
  • Drink half a cup of regular soda or sweetened fruit juice, and have a hard candy, glucose paste, tablet, or gel.
  • If you skipped a meal, eat something now.
  • Rest and recheck your blood sugar after 15-20 minutes.
  • If it’s still low, take another 15-20 grams of quick-acting sugar and eat it if possible.
  • Pay attention to how you feel for the next few hours.
  • Seek medical help if your sugar level remains low after 2 hours or if symptoms persist.

How to Prevent Insulin Overdose?

Injecting insulin into stomach

Preventing an overdose of insulin is crucial for managing diabetes safely. Here are some steps to help prevent insulin overdose:

  • Always take insulin exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Verify the insulin dose before each injection, especially if you use multiple types of insulin.
  • Ensure you’re using the appropriate device for your type and concentration of insulin.
  • Regularly change the injection site to avoid tissue damage and ensure consistent absorption.
  • Regularly check your blood sugar levels to understand how your body responds to insulin.
  • Record your insulin doses and blood sugar levels to track patterns and identify potential issues.
  • Know the onset, peak, and duration of action for your insulin types.
  • Be aware of the signs of hypoglycemia (e.g., sweating, shaking, confusion) and how to treat it.
  • Take your insulin simultaneously each day to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
  • Avoid Alcohol. Drinking alcohol can affect blood sugar levels and insulin requirements.
  • Always have a fast-acting source of glucose (e.g., glucose tablets, juice) with you.
  • Have regular appointments with your healthcare provider to review your diabetes management plan.
  • Inform your doctor of any unusual changes in blood sugar levels or insulin needs.
  • Keep insulin at the recommended temperature and check expiration dates.
  • Ensure the insulin is not cloudy or discolored before using it.

Recommendation

If you suspect an insulin overdose or need to monitor your diabetes closely, Buy Canadian Insulin offers a range of Blood Glucose Monitoring Devices to help you stay in control. Choose from our selection of reliable devices, like the Accu-Chek Aviva Connect Meter and the FreeStyle Precision Neo Meter & Ketone Monitor, designed for easy and accurate home use. Use the coupon code FIRST10 to save 10% on your first order.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of insulin overdose and how to manage them promptly. Accidental overdoses can happen for various reasons, and it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia. Understanding the treatment options for insulin overdose and seeking timely medical help can prevent serious complications. Always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions regarding insulin dosages and management to avoid the dangers of insulin overdose.

FAQs About Insulin Overdose

Can an insulin overdose cause a heart attack?

An insulin overdose itself does not directly cause a heart attack. However, severe hypoglycemia resulting from an insulin overdose can increase the risk of a heart attack in individuals who already have pre-existing heart conditions.

How long does an insulin overdose last?

The duration of an insulin overdose can vary depending on the severity of the hypoglycemia and the promptness of medical attention. In less severe cases, the individual may simply need to consume a sugary beverage or a small snack to bring their blood sugar levels back up. In more severe cases, hospitalization might be required to monitor the patient’s blood sugar levels and administer supportive care.

Can insulin overdose be detected in autopsy?

Detecting an insulin overdose during an autopsy can be challenging due to the lack of specific findings. It is important to identify exogenous insulin in postmortem investigations, especially in cases of suicides, accidents, and homicides. However, this is difficult because insulin has a large molecular weight and limited stability in whole blood. There are ongoing efforts to develop reliable methods for forensic purposes for detecting insulin in postmortem samples. Autopsy findings, scene evidence, and specific testing methods are essential for identifying fatal insulin overdoses, particularly when autopsy findings may not be conclusive.

How much insulin is too much at one injection?

Insulin is a medication that needs to be carefully dosed, as too much of it can be harmful. In some cases, people have accidentally taken far more insulin than they should, ranging from 26 to 4,800 units.

Will insulin kill a non-diabetic person?

Yes, insulin overdose can be lethal for anyone, regardless of whether they have diabetes or not. In non-diabetics, insulin overdose can lead to hypoglycemic coma, which can have varied outcomes from complete reversal to death.

Has anyone died of an insulin overdose?

Yes, insulin overdose can be fatal if left untreated or if the hypoglycemia is severe enough to cause a coma or seizures.

What happens if you overdose on insulin?

Symptoms of insulin overdose depend on how low the blood sugar level is. Mild symptoms include shaky hands, increased sweating and warmth, nervousness, anxiety, and palpitations. More severe symptoms can occur as the blood sugar drops lower, including pronounced confusion, lethargy and loss of consciousness, seizures, and coma

Can insulin overdose in dogs?

Administering more than 10 times the therapeutic insulin dose is extremely rare in diabetic dogs. However, if this occurs, it can be life-threatening, leading to hypoglycemia and seizures if not promptly treated.

Can insulin overdose in cats?

In the case of cats with diabetes, if they are given too much insulin, they may experience hypoglycemia, resulting in a low blood glucose level and potential coma. If left untreated, cats can become increasingly hyperglycemic, leading to a high blood glucose level, and in rare cases, coma.

Sources

MDPI. (2022, November 5). Insulin and Oral Hypoglycemic Drug Overdose in Post-Mortem Investigations: A Literature Review. Biomedicines. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9059/10/11/2823

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, December 14). Treatment of Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia) [Web page]. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/treatment/treatment-low-blood-sugar-hypoglycemia.html

Diabetes UK. (n.d.). Insulin overdose (accidental). Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/treating-your-diabetes/insulin/insulin/accidental-overdose

Roberge, R. J., Martin, T. G., & Delbridge, T. R. (1993, February). Intentional massive insulin overdose: recognition and management. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 22(2), 228-234.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8427437/