Blood Sugar Levels: How To Tell If You’re In The Normal Range
Here’s what to know about how much blood sugar is healthy, and how to find out your own levels.
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Caroline Roberts writes articles and notifications for CNET. She studies English at Cal Poly, and loves philosophy, Karl the Fog and a strong cup of black coffee.
People with diabetes are all too familiar with their blood sugar levels, but the rest of us might not even think about it outside of the occasional doctor’s visit. However, consistently high blood sugar levels can coexist with Type 2 diabetes and cause serious health conditions like kidney disease, nerve problems or stroke.
While that’s no reason to panic, when it comes to our health, it’s important to know exactly what’s going on inside of our bodies. Let’s get into what blood sugar means, how to measure it and everything else you need to know.
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.
Treating Severely Low Blood Sugar
Blood sugar below 55 mg/dL is considered severely low. You wont be able to treat it using the 15-15 rule. You also may not be able to check your own blood sugar or treat it by yourself, depending on your symptoms. Make sure your family members, friends, and caregivers know your signs of low blood sugar so they can help treat it if needed.
Injectable glucagon is the best way to treat severely low blood sugar. A glucagon kit is available by prescription. Speak with your doctor to see if you should have a kit. Be sure to learn how and when to use it. Let family members and others close to you know where you keep the glucagon kit and make sure theyve been trained in how to use it too.
Its important to contact a doctor for emergency medical treatment immediately after receiving a glucagon injection. If a person faints due to severely low blood sugar, theyll usually wake up within 15 minutes after a glucagon injection. If they dont wake up within 15 minutes after the injection, they should receive one more dose. When the person is awake and able to swallow:
- Feed the person a fast-acting source of sugar .
- Then, have them eat a long-acting source of sugar .
Its also important that friends, family, co-workers, teachers, coaches, and other people you may be around often know how to test your blood sugar and treat severely low blood sugar before it happens.
If any of the following happens, your friend, relative, or helper should call 911:
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Listen To Your Doctor
If you follow a meal plan or take medications that increase insulin to manage low blood sugar, its important to stick to the plan your doctor prescribed to help prevent drops in your blood sugar level.
Not eating the right foods or taking the right medications at the correct times can cause your blood sugar to drop. Check in often with your doctor so they can adjust your treatment plan if and when necessary.
Checking For Low Blood Sugar Levels
The warning signs of hypoglycemia are the bodys natural response to low blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels fall too low, the body releases the hormone adrenaline, which helps get stored glucose into the bloodstream quickly. This can make someone:
- have an increased heart rate
If the hypoglycemia isnt treated, more serious symptoms may happen, such as drowsiness, confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness.
The only way to know for sure if youre having a low blood sugar level is to test. Blood sugar levels can be tested with a . This computerized device measures and displays the amount of glucose in a blood sample. But if you cant quickly check your blood sugar level, its important to treat yourself for hypoglycemia immediately to prevent symptoms from getting worse.
Sometimes a person with diabetes may have symptoms of low blood sugar levels, but blood sugar levels are not actually low. This is a called a false reaction. The hormone adrenaline is not just released when blood sugar drops too low its also released when blood sugar levels fall quickly when theyre too high. If youre having a false reaction, you might actually have blood sugar levels in a healthy range but feel as if you have low blood sugar. Testing blood sugar levels before treating yourself for hypoglycemia can help you figure out if youre having a false reaction.
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Treating Low Blood Glucose If You Take Medicines That Slow Down Digestion
Some diabetes medicines slow down the digestion of carbohydrates to keep blood glucose levels from rising too high after you eat. If you develop low blood glucose while taking these medicines, you will need to take glucose tablets or glucose gel right away. Eating or drinking other sources of carbohydrates wont raise your blood glucose level quickly enough.
What Factors Affect Blood Sugar
You can guess that carbohydrate intake and insulin production are at least partly responsible for your blood sugar levels. But the list is much longer — almost every lifestyle choice you make can affect your blood sugar. Here’s just a partial list.
- Exercise can affect insulin sensitivity, leading to lower blood sugar for up to 48 hours.
- Alcohol intake increases insulin production, causing low blood sugar.
- Stress hormones like cortisol can raise blood sugar, because your body wants access to energy in order to escape what it perceives as a dangerous situation.
- Medications, especially statins and diuretics, can raise blood sugar. Statins are used to treat cholesterol, and diuretics for high blood pressure.
- Diet is a major player in blood sugar. Eating too many simple carbs at once can cause levels to skyrocket, while protein intake leads to a slower increase in blood sugar.
- Dehydration raises blood sugar, because with less water in your body the glucose concentration will be higher.
Other surprising factors can affect your blood sugar, like a sunburn or gum disease, so if you’re dealing with a blood sugar issue and can’t figure out what’s causing your spikes and dips, talk to a health care professional.
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How Can I Be Better Prepared For Hypoglycemia
You can take some steps to be ready for hypoglycemia:
- Be aware of the symptoms and treat them early.
- Carry some fast-acting carbs with you all the time.
- Check your glucose levels frequently, especially around meals and exercise.
- Inform family, friends and co-workers so they know what do if you need help.
- Talk to your healthcare provider regularly to make and update your plan.
- Wear a medical bracelet that lets people know you have diabetes. Carry a card in your purse or wallet with instructions for hypoglycemia.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hypoglycemia is quite common in people with diabetes. If not treated, it can cause troubling symptoms, and even serious health problems. Fortunately, you can avoid hypoglycemic episodes by monitoring your blood sugar. You can also make small adjustments to eating and exercising routines.
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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How Can I Treat Low Blood Sugar Quickly
If you feel symptoms of low blood sugar, test your levels with a blood glucose monitor as soon as possible. If your sugar levels are low , you can follow the 15-15-15 Rule:
Eat 15 g of a fast-acting carbohydrate . Common examples of 15 g include: a half cup of fruit juice, 6 to 8 hard candies, or 3 to 4 glucose tablets.
After 15 minutes, retest your sugar levels.
If they are still low, eat 15 g more.
If you are having a severe hypoglycemic attack or are unable to treat yourself, you may need a trained person to administer an emergency injection from your glucagon kit or a nasal spray of Baqsimi. If needed, you can eat 15 g of a fast-acting carbohydrate right after. If, after 15 minutes, you are still feeling confused or unconscious, have someone call 9-1-1.
How Can Parents Help
Nearly every child with diabetes will have an episode of mild hypoglycemia at times. Rarely, an episode will be a serious emergency. You can help make this less likely, and be ready if it does happen. Here are some tips:
- Follow your childs diabetes care plan. This is the best way to keep their sugars in a healthy range. The plan will guide you on the timing of:
- blood sugar checks
If you have questions about how to prevent or treat hypoglycemia, or about the diabetes care plan, call your childs diabetes health care team.
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The Lifestyle Cures Plate #1 Method:
- 4 main food groups Vegetables, fruits, legumes, & whole grains
- 4 helpful & healthy additions to your plate oils, nuts, and seeds, dairy and dairy alternatives, herbs and spices, & protein
Veggies and Fruits
½ Plate portion of vegetables and fruit, where the majority is made up of veggies and the rest is of fruit.
On your plate ¼ portion should consist of legumes.
On your plate ¼ plate portion should also consist of whole grains.
Oil, nuts, & seeds
Refer below to portion size measurements with hands for the amount that should be used.
Herbs & spices
You can use as much or as little of these that you want there is no restriction as to how much you are allowed to use.
Dairy & dairy alternatives
There should not be an emphasis on dairy or its alternatives. And if you can, try and have more plant-based milk instead whenever the option is available.
Normally protein is considered to be one of the main food groups on a plate. However, we have moved protein to the side and replaced it with legumes. The reason behind that is that you can get a majority of protein from legumes as well.
How Do I Pay For These Tests And Supplies
Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans pay for the A1C test and some of the cost of supplies for checking your blood sugar. Check your plan or ask your health care team for help finding low cost or free supplies. Ask your health care team what to do if you run out of test strips. For more information about Medicare and diabetes, go to .
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How Can I Stop My Blood Sugar From Crashing
Here are a few ways to avoid hypoglycemic episodes:
Get in the habit of self-monitoring your blood glucose. Keeping track of when your blood sugar drops can help you recognize aspects of your routine that may be contributing to your hypoglycemia. Dr. Klonoff recommends a continuous glucose monitor. Its the best tool for automatically checking your blood glucose levels around the clock, he says.
Change your meal plan. When, what, how much, and how often you eat all play a big part in your blood glucose levels. A dietitian can teach you about healthy, well-balanced food choices that will make it easier for you to maintain an acceptable blood sugar range.
Keep a stash of glucose tablets on hand. With your doctor’s recommendation, make sure you always have glucose tablets with you. You can stick them in your briefcase, purse, car, desk, school locker, etc. You may also want to keep snacks nearbyfor example, cheese or peanut butter crackers, although doctors suggest over-the-counter glucose tablets for more accurate dosage. Do not eat a healthy sugar-free candy bar during hypoglycemia, warns Dr. Klonoff. Its lack of sugar means that it will not raise your blood glucose level sufficiently when you want it to.
Certain drinks can help get your blood sugar up as well. Try 8 oz. of fruit juice, a soft drink , or a cup of milk.
What Is Hypoglycemia And Low Blood Sugar
Hypoglycemia is the state of having a blood glucose level that is too low to effectively fuel the body’s cells.
Glucose, which comes from carbohydrates found in foods, is a main source of energy for all of the cells of the body and, especially, the brain. While the body is quite good at extracting glucose from the foods we eat, it relies on a hormone called insulin to actually get the glucose inside the cells of specific organs: the liver, fat, and muscle.
We can think of insulin as holding the key to a cell without insulin, the glucose just remains in the blood, where its also known as blood sugar. During an episode of hypoglycemia, theres not enough glucose in the blood. The normal range is approximately 70 to 150 mg/dl .
Hypoglycemia is most common in newborns. In older children, its most often seen as a complication of insulin therapy for diabetes but can sometimes have other causes as well.
In the majority of cases, hypoglycemia is temporary, easily treated, and usually does not have serious consequences. There are several rare disorders in which hypoglycemia is recurrent and potentially life-threatening. However, with timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment, these can be effectively managed.
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What You Can Do
Most of the sugar or glucose in your blood comes from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches in grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, milk and milk products, honey, and sugar. If you dont have diabetes and youre feeling the unpleasant effects of a drop in blood sugar, eat or drink something with carbohydrates. Good choices are a piece of fruit, a few whole wheat crackers, a glass of milk, or a carton of yogurt.
In people with diabetes, hypoglycemia can come on suddenly and needs to be treated right away so it doesnt get worse. Eat or drink a quickly digested carbohydrate food, such as:
½ cup fruit juice
3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar or honey
3 or 4 glucose tablets or a serving of glucose gel
Each of these choices provides about 15 grams of carbohydrate. Wait for 15 or 20 minutes, then check your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter. If your blood sugar is still low, have another portion of carbohydrates.
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After You Have Low Blood Sugar
If your low blood sugar was mild , you can return to your normal activities once your blood sugar is back in its target range.
After you have low blood sugar, your early symptoms for low blood sugar are less noticeable for 48 to 72 hours. Be sure to check your blood sugar more often to keep it from getting too low again, especially before eating, physical activity, or driving a car.
If you used glucagon because of a severe low , immediately call your doctor for emergency medical treatment. If you have had lows several times close together , you should also tell you doctor. They may want to change your diabetes plan.
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If A Person Is Unconscious
If a person loses consciousness because of severe hypoglycaemia, they need to be put into the recovery position and given an injection of the hormone glucagon . The injection will raise their blood glucose level.
The injection should be carried out by a friend or family member who knows what they’re doing, or by a trained healthcare professional.
You should dial 999 to request an ambulance if:
- a glucagon injection kit isn’t available
- there’s nobody available who’s trained to give the injection
- the injection is ineffective after 10 minutes
Never try to put food or drink into the mouth of someone who’s unconscious as they could choke.
If you’re able to give a glucagon injection and the person regains consciousness, they should eat some longer-acting carbohydrate food, such as a few biscuits, a cereal bar or a sandwich.
You should continue to monitor the person for signs of recurring symptoms in case they need to be treated again.