Diabetic Scuba Divers. How Big Is the Risk of Underwater Hypoglycemia?

Recently there has been a tendency among people suffering from mild and even moderate forms of diabetes to practice scuba diving as a recreational activity. Even if many of the sportsmen have had their personal past safe experience with this extreme sport, generally this tendency is not favored by the majority of the scuba diving facilities and services providers due to clients health problems risks being involved. Major worries are being aroused specifically by fear of the risks of underwater hypoglycemic attacks.

Health providers who are specialists in the medical treatment of Diabetes Mellitus originating Hypoglycemia put Scuba Diving on the first position in the list of the 3 recreational activities that are recommended to be avoided or at least taken extreme caution when exercised with. These are followed by activities like rock-climbing and long-distance swimming coming next.

Our medical consultants believe that diabetics should ALWAYS exercise due caution in the course of scuba diving even if their health condition would prompt that current chances for occurrence of hypoglycemic attack as a result of this metabolic disorder are reduced to minimum. As for the diabetic persons wishing to learn to scuba-dive or established divers who have diabetes mellitus currently, but with no diabetes related health problems in the past, normally they hardly share doctors' worries even if objectively their health condition by itself requires staying on alert.

Most worries have to do with the Type 1 or Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM), that has traditionally been identified as a contraindication to physical activities like scuba diving. The same as asthma, diabetes keeps remaining an on-going controversy in diving medicine.

So, what is the real extent of the risks of underwater hypoglycemia for diabetic scuba divers?

From the findings of another UK based survey covering 11-year long experience of scuba diving with diabetes mellitus that was conducted by medical specialists within the group of 323 diabetic divers (269 male, 54 female) that had performed total 8,760 dives with scuba, only one incident of hypoglycemia underwater in an insulin dependent diabetic diver was reported. And that sole incident was none-fatal. Which means that within the group of well-controlled diabetic divers under the research, there were no serious problems due to hypoglycemia when they dived.

Anyway, if you are a diabetic scuba diver, you should be totally aware that the danger is still there, especially when you perform dives that are not doctor-supervised and when you should ensure the control on your own. Of course, you hardly on your own can perform control of blood glucose every time before you decide to go underwater unless you are a doctor yourself. If you are a scuba diver with this form of metabolic disorder, you shouldn't fail to adopt a responsible attitude every time you opt to dive, and stick at least to a few basic measures of precaution, which are quite simple:

  1. Never dive until you have completely recovered from any of your latest acute or aggravated conditions, be it even non-diabetes related.
  2. Never dive alone, group dives only. Let PADI certified companions supervise you during the entire course of your dive.
  3. Inform your scuba diving companions about your desease and instruct them in detail of potential reactions and how to respond to them.
  4. Always carry a couple of tubes of oral glucose gel in a plastic container under water. Your non-diabetic buddy should carry same reserve of glucose paste too.
  5. Use only reliable high performance scuba equipment of reliable producers, such as Aqua Lung regulators, buoyancy compensators, masks, fins, snorkels, wetsuits etc. manufactured under brand names such as Apeks, Aqua Lung or SeaQuest.

Diving should be excluded for people who can't recognize when they are having a reaction. Also long-term complications of diabetes must be excluded before a diabetic diver is allowed to dive.


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