What To Do When Your Blood Sugar Levels Drop Too Low
People who use insulin and other diabetes medications are at risk for hypoglycemia. Keep this action plan handy so you’re prepared.
If you take insulin or diabetes medication, you may be at risk of developing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Without quick attention, hypoglycemia can lead to serious complications, so its important to know what to do if it happens to you or someone close to you.
In very severe cases, hypoglycemia can lead to seizures or loss of consciousness, says a clinical assistant professor of medicine, endocrinology, gerontology, and metabolism at Stanford Health Care, and chief of the Stanford Endocrine Clinic.
It’s possible to have hypoglycemia but have no symptoms, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases . On the other hand, symptoms can also come on rapidly. While symptoms vary from person to person, if you develop mild to moderate low blood sugar you may:
- Feel shaky or jittery
- Have a headache or be lightheaded
- Be irritable or combative
- Have blurred vision or see double
Some people feel tingling or numbness in their extremities too, says Rodolfo Galindo, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, metabolism, and lipids at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, and chair of the inpatient diabetes taskforce.
Symptoms Of A Low Blood Sugar Level
A low blood sugar level can affect everyone differently. You’ll learn how it makes you feel, although your symptoms may change over time.
Early signs of a low blood sugar level include:
- a fast or pounding heartbeat
- becoming easily irritated, tearful, anxious or moody
If a low blood sugar level is not treated, you may get other symptoms, such as:
- unusual behaviour, slurred speech or clumsiness
- seizures or fits
- collapsing or passing out
A low blood sugar level, or hypo, can also happen while you’re sleeping. This may cause you to wake up during the night or cause headaches, tiredness or damp sheets in the morning.
How Long After Eating Does Blood Sugar Go Down
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Take Your Insulin As Prescribed
High blood sugar occurs when your body has too little insulin, or your body cant use insulin properly. Administering insulin can bring your blood sugar levels down.
Talk to your doctor about how much rapid-acting insulin you should administer when your blood sugar is high.
You may want to check your blood sugar about 1530 minutes after taking insulin to make sure your blood sugar is going down and that its not dropping too low.
A Low Blood Sugar Level And Driving
You may still be allowed to drive if you have diabetes or you’re at risk of a low blood sugar level for another reason, but you’ll need to do things to reduce the chance of this happening while you’re driving.
You also need to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and your car insurance company about your condition.
For more information, see:
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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
½ cup of a regular soft drink
5 or 6 hard candies
4 or 5 saltine crackers
2 tablespoons of raisins
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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How To Treat Someone Who’s Having A Seizure Or Fit
Follow these steps if someone has a seizure or fit caused by a low blood sugar level:
Tell your diabetes care team if you ever have a severe hypo that caused you to have a seizure or fit.
What Are The Causes Of Hypoglycemia
Whilst medication is the main factor involved in hypoglycemia within people with diabetes, a number of other factors can increase the risk of hypos occurring.
Factors linked to a greater risk of hypos include:
- Too high a dose of medication
You can take steps to minimise the risk of these factors causing hypos.
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Best Ways To Lower Blood Sugar Quickly
When treated early, you can bring high blood sugar levels down and prevent complications, including DKA.
Some sources suggest that drinking water or eating a high protein snack can quickly lower your blood sugar levels, though there isnt enough research to support this.
If you have high blood sugar and need to lower it fast, try the following methods:
Nighttime Low Blood Sugar
While low blood sugar can happen at any time during the day, some people may experience low blood sugar while they sleep. Reasons this may happen include:
- Having an active day.
- Being physically active close to bedtime.
- Taking too much insulin.
- Drinking alcohol at night.
Eating regular meals and not skipping them can help you avoid nighttime low blood sugar. Eating when you drink alcohol can also help. If you think youre at risk for low blood sugar overnight, have a snack before bed.
You may wake up when you have low blood sugar, but you shouldnt rely on that. A continuous glucose monitor can alert you with an alarm if your blood sugar gets low while youre sleeping.
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What Are The Treatment Options For Hypoglycemia
Children with hypoglycemia have different symptoms, and these vary from one child to another. But no matter what your childs symptoms, the overriding goal is the same to bring the blood sugar back up to normal as rapidly as possible and return your child to good health.
Most often, your childs blood sugar can be brought back up to normal by eating or drinking something that has sugar in it, such as fruit juice, regular soda, table sugar, maple syrup, candy, glucose tablets, glucose gel, or cake frosting. Consider encouraging your child to:
- eat regular meals throughout the day
- eat frequent snacks
For children with diabetes, the goal is to consistently maintain a blood sugar level that is in a healthy range. This involves testing blood sugar often, learning to recognize the earliest symptoms of low blood sugar, and treating the condition quickly, based on instructions given by your childs healthcare providers.
If your child has recurrent or severe hypoglycemia, the first thing is to determine the cause, because different causes have different treatments. While the cause is determined, some children will receive glucose intravenously in the hospital to make sure their blood-sugar level stays normal.
Some causes of hypoglycemia can be treated with changes in your childs diet or medication. For some rare cases of severe hypoglycemia that dont respond to medical treatment, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove most of the pancreas.
Low Blood Sugar: Best Bites When Youre On The Go
Despite your best planning, you might find yourself experiencing low blood sugar when youre out and about, with no glucose tablets in reach. Here are tips to keep in mind:
Best bites at work Smart foods to keep in a drawer at work are 4-ounce cans or cartons of any type of 100 percent juice hard candy like peppermints or Life Savers and small boxes of raisins the ones that contain about 2 tablespoons, says Hope Warshaw, RD, a certified diabetes educator and author of Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy.
If you dont have these items on hand, head to the nearest vending machine for any snack containing carbohydrates or sugary candy but skip the chocolate. We do not recommend using chocolate as a treatment for hypoglycemia, despite what you might have read, says OConnor. She explains that the fat in chocolate slows down how fast the sugar and carbohydrates in the candy can get into the bloodstream.
If youre choosing foods to help treat hypoglycemia, you should also pay attention to where they fall on the glycemic index, or GI. The higher a food ranks on the GI, the more quickly your body breaks it down into sugar. Life Savers have a GI of 70, while raisins have a GI around 60.
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How Do I Treat An Episode Of Hypoglycemia
The American Diabetes Association recommends the 15-15 rule for an episode of hypoglycemia:
- Eat or drink 15 grams of carbs to raise your blood sugar.
- After 15 minutes, check your blood sugar.
- If its still below 70 mg/dL, have another 15 grams of carbs.
- Repeat until your blood sugar is at least 70 mg/dL.
If you have symptoms of hypoglycemia but cant test your blood sugar, use the 15-15 rule until you feel better.
Note: Children need fewer grams of carbs. Check with your healthcare provider.
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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Whats The Link Between Diabetes And Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is most common, by far, in people with diabetes. Treatment for the diseaseoften involves taking medication to increase insulin. Hypoglycemia can develop if things like food, exercise and diabetes medications are out of balance.
Common pitfalls for people with diabetes include:
- Being more active than usual.
- Drinking alcohol without eating.
- Eating late or skipping meals.
- Not balancing meals by including fat, protein and fiber.
- Not eating enough carbohydrates.
- Not timing insulin and carb intake correctly .
Also, if someone with diabetes uses the wrong insulin, takes too much or injects it incorrectly, that can cause hypoglycemia.
Possible Causes Without Diabetes
Even if you dont have diabetes, you may experience low blood sugar. However, hypoglycemia is much less common in people without diabetes.
Some possible causes of low blood sugar in people who dont have diabetes are:
- certain medications, such as quinine
- some medical conditions, such as hepatitis and kidney disorders
- a tumor that produces excess insulin
- endocrine disorders, such as adrenal gland deficiency
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What Are Clinical Trials For Low Blood Glucose
Clinical trialsand other types of clinical studiesare part of medical research and involve people like you. When you volunteer to take part in a clinical study, you help doctors and researchers learn more about disease and improve health care for people in the future.
Researchers are studying many aspects of low blood glucose levels in diabetes, such as
- how to diagnose and treat low blood glucose among people with diabetes
- medicines that can treat symptoms of low blood glucose in people with hypoglycemia unawareness
- educational approaches to reduce fear of low blood glucose, which can make it harder for you to control your diabetes
What Are The Symptoms Of Low Blood Sugar
It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of blood sugar dropping quickly.
These symptoms could include:
- An accelerated heartbeat
When someone experiences a low blood sugar , their brain tells their body they need to eat. The tendency to eat until we feel well may fix the low blood sugar, but it may also be too much of a sugar intake that will require additional insulin later. This is why its important to be aware of carbohydrate intake.
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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
Low Blood Sugar Levels In Diabetes
People with diabetes can have low blood sugar levels because of the medicines they have to take to manage their diabetes. They may need a hormone called or diabetes pills to help their bodies use the sugar in their blood.
These medicines help take the sugar out of the blood and get it into the body’s cells, which makes the blood sugar level go down. But sometimes it’s a tricky balancing act and blood sugar levels can get too low.
People with diabetes need to keep their blood sugars from getting too highor too low. Keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range means balancing when and what they eat, and when they exercise with when they take medicines.
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