What Causes Low Blood Sugar
Low blood sugar has many causes, including missing a meal, taking too much insulin, taking other diabetes medicines, exercising more than normal, and drinking alcohol. Blood sugar below 70 mg/dL is considered low.
Signs of low blood sugar are different for everyone. Common symptoms include:
Know what your individual symptoms are so you can catch low blood sugar early and treat it. If you think you may have low blood sugar, check it even if you dont have symptoms. Low blood sugar can be dangerous and should be treated as soon as possible.
Drink Water And Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough water could help you keep your blood sugar levels within healthy ranges.
In addition to preventing dehydration, it helps your kidneys flush out any excess sugar through urine.
One review of observational studies showed that those who drank more water had a lower risk of developing high blood sugar levels (
You can do so at home using a portable blood glucose meter, which is known as a glucometer. You can discuss this option with your doctor.
Keeping track allows you to determine whether you need to adjust your meals or medications. It also helps you learn how your body reacts to certain foods .
Try measuring your levels regularly every day and keeping track of the numbers in a log. Also, it may be more helpful to track your blood sugar in pairs for example, before and after exercise or before and 2 hours after a meal.
This can show you whether you need to make small changes to a meal if it spikes your blood sugar, rather than avoiding your favorite meals altogether. Some adjustments include swapping a starchy side for non-starchy veggies or limiting them to a handful.
Checking your blood glucose and maintaining a daily log enables you to adjust foods and medications when necessary to better manage your blood sugar levels.
How Do I Treat Hypoglycemia
A mild case of hypoglycemia can be treated through eating or drinking 15-20g of fast acting carbohydrate such as glucose tablets, sweets, sugary fizzy drinks or fruit juice.
Some people with diabetes may also need to take 15-20g of slower acting carbohydrate if the next meal is not due.
A blood test should be taken after 15-20 minutes to check whether blood glucose levels have recovered. Severe hypoglycemia may require an ambulance, for example if loss of consciousness occurs or a seizure persists for more than 5 minutes.
Severe hypos can be treated with glucagon if a glucagon injection kit is available and in date.
- Read more detail on how to treat hypoglycemia
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Can I Prevent Nondiabetic Hypoglycemia
The only thing you can do to help prevent nondiabetic hypoglycemia is to eat snacks and meals throughout the day so your blood sugar levels stay in the normal range.
However, this approach does not address any underlying causes and is not recommended as a long-term solution.
Please talk to your doctor or healthcare professional for medical advice about treating the cause of your hypoglycemia.
Can You Prevent Low Blood Sugar
Hypoglycemia might sound a little scary, so you might wonder if you can avoid it. No matter how well they take care of themselves, kids with diabetes will sometimes have low blood sugar levels. But taking these steps can help:
- Try to eat all your meals and snacks on time and donât skip any.
- Take the right amount of insulin.
- If you exercise longer or harder than usual, have an extra snack.
- Donât take a hot bath or shower right after an insulin shot.
- Stick to your diabetes management plan.
What else can you do? Wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace that says you have diabetes. Then, if you are not feeling well, whoeverâs helping you even if the person doesnât know you will know to call for medical help. Medical identification also can include your doctorâs phone number or a parentâs phone number. The quicker you get help, the quicker youâll be feeling better.
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What Is Nocturnal Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is the term for low blood sugar, which occurs in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It is defined as a blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL. Hypoglycemia is considered severe when blood sugar drops below 54 mg/dL.
People without diabetes can also develop low blood sugar, but it isnt as common as in people with diabetes.
Nocturnal hypoglycemiais when your blood sugar level drops at night, usually when youre sleeping . Nocturnal hypoglycemia can be more dangerous than hypoglycemia during the day because you might not be awake or aware of the symptoms.
Keep An Eye On Your Carb Intake
Paying attention to carbohydrates is important for people with type 2 diabetes. Carbs are what cause your blood sugars to potentially fluctuate, Crandall Snyder says.
How many carbs per meal is ideal? Its tailored to each individual, says Weisenberger. How much you exercise, your weight, and your age can all affect how long sugars stay in your system, according to the CDC. A typical starting point for people with diabetes is to limit carb intake to 200 to 245 grams per day, which amounts to about one-half of your daily calories coming from carbs, according to the CDC. From there, make adjustments according to your blood glucose readings or as recommended by a dietitian, Crandall Snyder says.
And keep in mind that carbs arent only found in the usual culprits, like bread, potatoes, and pasta. They are also in fruits, vegetables, sweets, and dairy, so you have to take all of those into consideration as well, Crandall Snyder says.
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How To Take A Blood Sugar Reading
Knowing how to take your blood sugar reading is important to managing your levels at home. The results can help you make informed decisions about your diet, exercise, and medication.
Your healthcare provider will give you instructions on the recommended timing and frequency of testing your blood sugar and your target ranges.
Here are a couple of ways you can check your blood sugar at home.
What Causes Blood Sugar To Be High
Many things can cause high blood sugar , including being sick, being stressed, eating more than planned, and not giving yourself enough insulin. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to long-term, serious health problems. Symptoms of high blood sugar include:
- Feeling very tired.
- Having blurry vision.
- Needing to urinate more often.
If you get sick, your blood sugar can be hard to manage. You may not be able to eat or drink as much as usual, which can affect blood sugar levels. If youre ill and your blood sugar is 240 mg/dL or above, use an over-the-counter ketone test kit to check your urine for ketones and call your doctor if your ketones are high. High ketones can be an early sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately.
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The Dangers Of Low Blood Glucose
At some time, most people with diabetes experience the sweating and shakiness that occurs when blood glucose levels fall below 70 mg/dl a condition known as hypoglycemia. The average person with type 1 diabetes may experience symptoms of low blood glucose up to two times a week. However, not all are aware that these symptoms can rapidly progress to seizures, coma and even death if hypoglycemia is severe. Though hypoglycemia can be common and occur repeatedly in some people with diabetes, symptoms of low blood glucose should always be taken seriously. People with diabetes and their families, friends or coworkers should be prepared to act quickly and responsibly at the earliest signs of low blood glucose.
Dont Drive When You Have Low Blood Sugar
It’s dangerous. If you’re driving and you have hypoglycemia symptoms, pull off the road, check your blood sugar, and eat a sugary food. Wait at least 15 minutes, check your blood sugar, and repeat these steps if needed. Eat a protein and carbohydrate source before you drive on. Be prepared. Keep a sugar source, such as glucose tablets, in your car at all times for emergencies.
When To Seek Immediate Medical Attention
Blood sugar levels that keep dropping without treatment can get very low. Severe hypoglycemiadefined as a blood sugar level below 55 mg/dLcan be treated with a glucagon injection or spray. The medication triggers a release of stored sugar from the liver, which raises blood sugar levels quickly.
- You become unconscious and glucagon is not available.
- You require a second dose of glucagon.
- You remain confused despite having glucagon administered.
- Your blood sugar remains severely low 20 minutes after treatment or does not respond to your usual treatments.
- You have concerns about your severely low blood sugar.
How Do I Treat Low Blood Glucose
If you begin to feel one or more symptoms of low blood glucose, check your blood glucose level. If your blood glucose level is below your target or less than 70 mg/dL, follow these steps
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What Should Your Blood Sugar Be When You Wake Up
Whenever possible, aim to keep your glucose levels in range between 70 and 130 mg/dL in the morning before you eat breakfast, and between 70 and 180 mg/dL at other times. For some people, including older adults or pregnant women, a slightly looser or tighter glucose range might be best, and you should discuss with your healthcare provider what your goals may be.
Managing your glucose levels is key to preventing short and long-term complications. Though the occasional high blood glucose wont put you in immediate danger consistently high glucose levels over a long period of time are associated with complications of diabetes such as heart disease and stroke, chronic kidney disease, nerve damage, eye disease and more.
Additionally, high glucose levels especially in people with type 1 diabetes can put you in immediate danger. These high levels, if combined with high blood ketone levels, can cause diabetic ketoacidosis , a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when a person has high blood ketones and not enough insulin. Symptoms of DKA include shortness of breath, fruity-smelling breath, nausea and vomiting, confusion, or loss of consciousness.
Should You Worry About Low Blood Sugar
Before getting into a panic state first verify that you actually have hypoglycemia. Check if your blood sugar actually plummets.
If you actually register low blood sugar on your glucometer the next thing you need to do is exclude probability that low glucose number is due to alcohol, medication, or food allergies and sensitivities.
To check if changes to glucose metabolism is due to a food you need to do a specialized tests. For that you need to do a food sensitivity test, but thats not the same as a skin scratch. Skin scratch is valuable in detecting foods that cause anaphylactic or skin reaction, but not food sensitivities. Skin scratch cannot detect all the foods your immune system reacts to. For that you need a hidden food sensitivity test.
If after ruling out the above causes you are still experiencing hypoglycemia symptoms you need to ask your doctor to test for insulin resistance. This will involve taking blood for two tests , both of which should be done at the same time in your local medical laboratory.
When the tests come back your doctor needs to run an insulin resistance algorithm, called HOMA. Only this way you are able to detect early signs of insulin resistance, which can seen years or decades before glucose numbers change on the standard lab test.
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When To Contact Your Healthcare Provider
While mild to moderate hypoglycemia can often be managed by eating snacks or drinking beverages with sugar, any sign of severe low blood sugar calls for immediate medical attention. Generally, you should contact your provider if:
- Your blood sugar level is below 55 mg/dL.
- You used injectable glucagon, a prescription treatment for severe hypoglycemia.
- You experience several episodes of hypoglycemia, even if not severe, within a short span of time.
Since low blood sugar can become very severe, several cases call for emergency medical help. These include:
- Loss of consciousness and no access to glucagon
- Inability to restore blood sugar levels with one dose of glucagon
- Persistent confusion despite a dose of glucagon
- Low blood sugar levels 20 minutes after treatment
No Symptoms Be Alarmed
Surprisingly, the most dangerous episodes of hypoglycemia occur with little or no warning. When low blood glucose occurs on a regular basis, the body can become used to the warning signs and the person may stop noticing symptoms. This is a particularly dangerous condition known as hypoglycemic unawareness. People with this condition might not realize they have low blood glucose until it’s dangerously low seizures and coma are sometimes the first indication of a problem. The good news is that this condition can often be reversed allowing people to once again notice the signs of low blood glucose if hypoglycemia is avoided for a few weeks through careful monitoring of blood glucose.
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How Common Is Low Blood Glucose
Low blood glucose is common among people with type 1 diabetes and among people with type 2 diabetes who take insulin or some other diabetes medicines. In a large global study of people with diabetes who take insulin, 4 in 5 people with type 1 diabetes and nearly half of those with type 2 diabetes reported a low blood sugar event at least once over a 4-week period.2
Severely low blood glucose, defined as when your blood glucose level drops so low you cant treat it yourself, is less common. Among U.S. adults with diabetes who take insulin or some diabetes medicines that help the pancreas release insulin into the blood, 2 in 100 may develop severely low blood glucose each year.3
What Can I Do To Help If Someones Blood Sugar Is Low
Ask them if they have anything to raise blood sugar. This might be a snack, chewable glucose tablets, which are created specifically to raise blood sugar quickly, or glucagon, which is often prescribed for people who use insulin and comes in different formulations, including a pre-mixed version and a nasal spray. If they dont have any of those on hand, help them find a snack or drink that can raise that number.
A good rule of thumb is what we call the rule of 15. Someone with low blood sugar should eat 15 grams of carbohydrates and wait 15 minutes to see if their blood sugar level rises and they feel better. If the number stays below 70 or theyre still experiencing symptoms, repeat the process with another 15 grams of carbohydrates.
When your blood sugar is very low, its hard not to want to eat more the hunger center of the brain is on overdrive to fix the problem. But that waiting period is important, because over-treating low blood sugar could make that number swing too high, causing a different problem.
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Your Hypoglycemia Action Plan
If you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, its important to take action. Start with these steps:
Test your blood sugar. If you recognize any of these symptoms and believe your blood sugar may be too low, the first step you should take is to test your blood sugar with your glucose meter, Tan says. Anything less than 70 milligrams per deciliter is considered low blood sugar, according to the National Library of Medicine . However, target levels are often individualized, so talk with your healthcare provider about your optimal numbers, Tan adds.
Eat or drink fast-acting carbs. If you have low blood sugar, you need to take action right away. Your best bet is to consume about 15 grams of carbohydrates, the NLM says. Some options include:
- ½ cup or 4 ounces of orange juice
- ½ cup or 4 ounces of regular soda
- 1 tablespoon of sugar dissolved in water
- 1 tablespoon of honey or maple syrup
- 5 or 6 hard candies, jelly beans, or gumdrops
- 1 tablespoon of cake frosting
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- ½ cup of applesauce
You can also take three to four glucose tablets or a tube of glucose gel. Everyone who takes medications for diabetes should always have glucose tablets with them, Galindo urges.
Wait, then retest. The next step is to wait 15 minutes, then test your blood sugar again. If blood sugar has reached 100 mg/dl or greater, youre fine. If not…