How diabetes can affect a breath test

by | Jan 4, 2017 | Drunk Driving

Diabetes is a highly prevalent condition among Americans. A diabetic who begins experiencing low blood glucose levels while driving runs the risk of being stopped and accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. The most common symptoms of low blood sugar include diminished coordination, distorted vision and confusion, all of which can create the impression of drunkenness. These symptoms make it difficult to pass the typical field sobriety test as well, leading to the administration of a breathalyzer. High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, can also cause symptoms such as drowsiness and dizziness. It can also lead to false positives on the breathalyzer test.

How breathalyzers work

A breathalyzer works by using infrared light beams on the breath sample. If the sample contains a chemical compound that incorporates the methyl group in its structure, the chemical compound will absorb the infrared light. The level of absorption corresponds to the resulting blood alcohol level reading. The principle is that blood alcohol passes into the air in the lungs, which is then expelled through the breath.

Diabetic complications

However, alcohol consumption is not the only factor that can create an elevated level of methyl-containing compounds in a breath sample. Acetone is one common compound that contains the methyl group. Hyperglycemia, a condition of diabetes, includes among its side effects the process of ketoacidosis. This process responds to the hyperglycemic body’s inability to use carbohydrates for energy by burning ketones, creating a high concentration of acetone in the breath. As a result, a breathalyzer test will produce a reading indicating illegally high blood alcohol levels, even if the driver did not consume any alcohol.

Protecting yourself

In Pennsylvania, refusing a breathalyzer test can lead to criminal penalties. While a recent Supreme Court case has limited the penalties for refusing a blood test, breath tests were not affected by the ruling. The most you can do is let police officers know if you have a medical condition that can potentially interfere with testing. Even though this is unlikely to protect you from being charged with a DUI, it can lay the groundwork for defending yourself.

In general, breathalyzer results can be affected by a variety of factors, including a work environment with a high exposure to acetones, improper device calibration and even an extremely low-carb diet that can cause a high concentration of ketones in your breath. If you have been charged with a DUI, the best thing to do is to speak with an experienced attorney who will be able to mount an effective defense on your behalf.