Hypoglycemia, Diabetes, and Blood Alcohol Tests

It has been found that diabetes and hypoglycemia can be related to accidents and errors on today's road. Even more common, are unjustified DWI and DUI arrests concerning patterns normally associated with a drunk driver.

In a healthy individual, blood glucose (blood sugar) will be from 70 to 120 mg/dl. When blood glucose rises above 120 mg/dl and there is no insulin present, diabetes occurs. Insulin is a hormone controlled by your pancreas that is required to digest and keep a blood sugar balance. If blood glucose decreases to 60 mg/dl or lower, hypoglycemia will occur.

Four different forms of diabetes exist, each with its own treatment. The first, Type 1, is typically diagnosed in children with juvenile onset diabetes. Although less common, it is possible for adults to be diagnosed (refer to www.diabetes.org). With Type 1, insulin must be injected into the body because the pancreas fails to produce any insulin at all; leaving it to be the most dangerous of the four types. With Type 2 diabetes, the body can create insulin, but not enough. The body is also resistant to the insulin and does not make use of it in the right way. For Type 2, the treatments include a new diet, exercise, and, on occasion, insulin tablets. Gestational Diabetes and Pre-diabetes are the last of the four types. Gestational Diabetes is most commonly temporary, and is diagnosed during pregnancy. Pre-diabetes occurs when the blood sugar is higher than usual, but still not at the level of Type 2 diabetes.

The reason this is all very pertinent is because the symptoms caused by diabetes or hypoglycemia can all too easily be confused with an intoxicated individual. And, while these symptoms are typically seen in a diabetic or hypoglycemic, they can also be seen in a non-diabetic individual. If a person is on a low-carbohydrate diet or has not eaten in the past 24 hours, they can experience the same traits.

The symptoms of a hypoglycemic attack can, unfortunately, be more severe than the individual who is experiencing the attack realizes. They can be driving and unaware that they are putting both themselves and others in danger. Bodily symptoms might be hunger, nausea, tremors, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, and sweating. The symptoms that affect the central nervous system, and are often more apparent from an outside perspective, can include slurred speech, confusion, seizures, delayed reflexes, loss of consciousness, and light-headedness.

Police officers can be deceived by diabetic symptoms to make them believe the driver is, in fact, intoxicated. If the blood glucose of a diabetic rises above 250 mg/dl, the body becomes incapable of making use of any carbohydrates for energy. In response to this, the body will start to burn ketones (stored fat) to produce energy. Diabetic ketoacidosis will then occur, where symptoms are rapid heartbeat, labored breathing, loss of appetite, thirst, drowsiness, and a flushed face. Another unfortunate reaction during this state: ketones and acetones in the breath will create a distinct bad breath that can easily be mistaken for alcohol on the breath.

A breath alcohol test will be given in most drunk driving cases. Whether this test be administered using a preliminary alcohol screening test in the field or a breathalyzer at the police station, the equipment is incapable of detecting ketones. Instead, the machines will often mistake them as ethyl alcohol, which in turn registers as an increased blood alcohol level.

A study done in 1988 (by Mormann, Olsen, Sakshaug, and Morland; Measurement of Ethanol by Alkomat Breath Analyzer; Chemical Specificity and the Influence of Lung Function, Breath Technique and Environmental Temperature, 25 Blutalkohol 153) discovered acetone levels that are high enough can create a reading of .06% on a breath test. That is just .02% under the legal limit of .08%. Per this discovery, increased acetone levels on the breath have been found as a popular cause of inaccurate breath test readings of blood alcohol level.

Lastly, insulin will speed up the rate that alcohol burns off (or oxidizes) in the body. Because of this fact, any evidence in a DUI case of blood alcohol level projections from the time of arrest is open to doubt.

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