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What is hypoglycemia? (low blood sugar)

Part of living with diabetes is learning to cope with some of the problems that go along with having the disease. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is one of those problems. Hypoglycemia happens from time to time to everyone who has diabetes.

Hypoglycemia, sometimes called an insulin reaction, can happen even during those times when you're doing all you can to control your diabetes. So, although many times you can't prevent it from happening, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can be treated before it gets worse. For this reason, it's important to know what hypoglycemia is, what symptoms of hypoglycemia are, and how to treat hypoglycemia. back to top

What are the symptoms of hypoglycemia?

The symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

Shakiness. Dizziness. Sweating. Hunger. Headache. Pale skin color. Sudden moodiness or behavior changes, such as crying for no apparent reason. Clumsy or jerky movements. Seizure. Difficulty paying attention, or confusion. Tingling sensations around the mouth. How do you know when your blood sugar is low? Part of keeping diabetes in control is checking blood sugar often. Ask your doctor how often you should check and what your blood sugar levels should be. The results from checking your blood will tell you when your blood sugar is low and that you need to treat it.

You should check your blood sugar level according to the schedule you work out with your doctor. More importantly though, you should check your blood whenever you feel low blood sugar coming on. After you check and see that your blood sugar level is low, you should treat hypoglycemia quickly.

If you feel a reaction coming on but cannot check, it's best to treat the reaction rather than wait. Remember this simple rule: When in doubt, treat.
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How do you treat hypoglycemia?

The quickest way to raise your blood sugar and treat hypoglycemia is with some form of sugar, such as 3 glucose tablets (you can buy these at the drug store), 1/2 cup of fruit juice, or 5-6 pieces of hard candy.

Ask your health care professional or dietitian to list foods that you can use to treat low blood sugar. And then, be sure you always have at least one type of sugar with you.

Once you've checked your blood sugar and treated your hypoglycemia, wait 15 or 20 minutes and check your blood again. If your blood sugar is still low and your symptoms of hypoglycemia don't go away, repeat the treatment. After you feel better, be sure to eat your regular meals and snacks as planned to keep your blood sugar level up.

It's important to treat hypoglycemia quickly because hypoglycemia can get worse and you could pass out. If you pass out, you will need IMMEDIATE treatment, such as an injection of glucagon or emergency treatment in a hospital.

Glucagon raises blood sugar. It is injected like insulin. Ask your doctor to prescribe it for you and tell you how to use it. You need to tell people around you (such as family members and co-workers) how and when to inject glucagon should you ever need it.

If glucagon is not available, you should be taken to the nearest emergency room for treatment for low blood sugar. If you need immediate medical assistance or an ambulance, someone should call the emergency number in your area (such as 911) for help. It's a good idea to post emergency numbers by the telephone.

If you pass out from hypoglycemia, people should:

NOT inject insulin. NOT give you food or fluids. NOT put their hands in your mouth. Inject glucagon. Call for emergency help.

How do you prevent low blood sugar?

Good diabetes control is the best way we know to prevent hypoglycemia. The trick is to learn to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia. This way, you can treat hypoglycemia before it gets worse.

Hypoglycemia Unawareness

Some people have no symptoms of hypoglycemia. They may lose consciousness without ever knowing their blood sugar levels were dropping. This problem is called hypoglycemia unawareness.

Hypoglycemia unawareness tends to happen to people who have had diabetes for many years. Hypoglycemia unawareness does not happen to everyone. It is more likely in people who have neuropathy (nerve damage), people on tight glucose control, and people who take certain heart or high blood pressure medicines.

As the years go by, many people continue to have symptoms of hypoglycemia, but the symptoms change. In this case, someone may not recognize a reaction because it feels different.

These changes are good reason to check your blood sugar often, and to alert your friends and family to your symptoms of hypoglycemia. Treat low or dropping sugar levels even if you feel fine. And tell your team if your blood sugar ever drops below 50 mg/dl without any symptoms.
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