Posted on February 10, 2018

A diabetes patient educator from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) says that while a diabetes diagnosis should not prevent an individual from driving, diabetics do need to take extra precautions if they operate a motor vehicle.

According to Ms. Lal Malak Derzad, Diabetes Patient Educator at Hamad General Hospital’s National Diabetes Center, most individuals with well-controlled diabetes can drive without any complications. However, she cautions that diabetics should not get behind the wheel if they cannot identify early signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), have vision problems that cannot be corrected with glasses, or experience a loss of sensation in their hands or feet (diabetic neuropathy).

“There is no reason most diabetics cannot drive, provided their diabetes is well managed. However, it is important for all diabetics to be aware of their blood sugar levels,” said Ms. Derzad. She added that one of the most hazardous situations for diabetics who drive is a sudden drop in their blood sugar while driving. “Diabetics who use insulin and take medications such as sulfonylureas need to be extra vigilant. It is also very important for diabetics who have a history of high or unstable blood sugar to be cautious,” added Ms. Derzad.

Low blood sugar symptoms can differ from person to person, but early warning signs include feeling hungry, sweating, tingling lips, feeling shaky (or trembling), and a fast heartbeat (palpitations). “Hypoglycemia can also cause a person to feel sleepy, dizzy, be irritable, and feel anxious. If an individual with diabetes experiences any of these symptoms, they must immediately find a safe place to stop their car. It is recommended they move into the passenger seat and eat something containing sugar, such as a piece of candy. They should wait for ten to fifteen minutes and check their insulin level again. If the level increases to 4mmol/liter, they should eat a snack containing carbohydrates,” said Ms. Derzad.

If the individual’s blood glucose remains low, an additional 15 grams of sugar should be taken before re-checking their level. Ms. Derzad added that in this situation, the assistance of another driver is required. “The individual should contact a family member or friend to drive their vehicle. He or she should not resume driving. It will take some time for their blood glucose level to return to normal; this is unlikely to happen before 45 minutes have passed,” said Ms. Derzad. According to Ms. Derzad, it is important for diabetics who drive to take personal responsibility for both their own safety and the safety of other road users. She recommends getting into the habit of measuring sugar levels before driving, especially in the case of long journeys.

Diabetics are advised to carry a source of fast-absorbing carbohydrates, such as candies or fruit juice, and a slow-digesting carbohydrate, such as bread. It is also recommended to travel with a blood glucose meter and test strips and to ensure strict adherence to scheduled meal times. Keeping a printed list of medications with specific directions is also recommended.