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
- Turn pale
- 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.
About High Blood Sugar
High glucose levels occur when the body doesn’t have enough insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it has to shuttle glucose from the bloodstream to the bodys muscles, organs, and tissues for fuel, ONeill says. As a result, the amount of sugar in the blood builds up.
Hyperglycemia typically happens when you consume more carbohydrates or bigger portions of food than usual if you don’t take enough insulin or other diabetes medication as prescribed and if you decrease your levels of physical activity, she says. Heightened stress levels can also increase blood sugar levels. Non-diabetes-related medications that are known to raise blood sugar levels include steroids, beta-blockers, birth control pills, and many mental health medications, she explains.
Signs of high blood sugar include frequent urination, fatigue, dry or itchy skin, feeling thirsty, more frequent infections, and eating more food but not gaining as much weight as usual, says Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, the corporate vice president for the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute in La Jolla, California.
High blood sugar levels can cause these symptoms through various mechanisms, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels and nerves throughout the body. They can also deprive organs of energy and can cause fluid to accumulate in the eyes. And in an attempt to get your blood sugar to a healthier level, your body will often increase urine output.
Low Blood Sugar Levels
Another reason that low-carb diets may cause dizziness is because of changes in your blood sugar levels. LaMantia explains, “When you start on a low-carb diet, the level of sugar in your blood will reduce It’s possible your body could respond to this with low blood sugar.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, one of the signs of a low blood-sugar level is dizziness, along with shakiness, nervousness, sweating, confusion, increased heart rate and hunger. Low blood-sugar levels can be dangerous, especially in people with diabetes. If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you should speak to your doctor before starting a low-carb or keto diet, especially if you’re taking any blood-sugar lowering medications, such as metformin or insulin.
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What Causes Low Blood Sugar In The Morning
The causes of low blood sugar in the morning vary. If you have diabetes, you likely need to adjust your background insulin levels. Make sure youre aware of how any other medications you take can affect your blood sugar. Your doctor can help you make sure that your insulin dosage and any other medications you take are a good fit with your diet and exercise routines. Additionally, alcohol usage is a risk for hypoglycemia.
If you dont have diabetes, hypoglycemia is less likely to occur. However, some non-diabetes-related causes of hypoglycemia include the following:
- drinking too much alcohol the previous night, which makes it harder for your liver to release glucose into your blood, thus causing a low blood sugar
- chronic starvation
Treating low blood sugar is fairly simple. If you wake up with hypoglycemia symptoms, try to consume about 15 grams of carbohydrates as soon as possible. Snacks that provide this include:
- 3 glucose tablets
- 1/2 cup of non-sugar-free fruit juice
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1/2 can of non-diet soda
Make sure you dont eat too much to treat low blood sugar, as this can have an opposite affect and make your levels too high. Wait 15 minutes after your first snack. If youre not feeling better, have another 15 grams of carbohydrates. Pairing your carbohydrate with a protein and healthy source of fat, such as nuts, seeds, cheese, or hummus, helps to keep you full and prevent another big drop in blood sugar.
Warning Signs Of Low Blood Sugar
Hypoglycemia can cause both short- and long-term complications. Know the signs so that you can treat the condition as soon as you’re aware of it.
As a person living with diabetes, you know how important it is to reduce blood sugar when it is too high, a phenomenon called hyperglycemia. But blood sugar that is too low, or hypoglycemia, is equally critical to avoid.
“Hypoglycemia happens when the amount of blood glucose drops to a level that’s too low to sustain normal functioning,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, who is based in Sparta, New Jersey. “In most people, this is defined as a blood sugar level at or below 70 milligrams per deciliter .”
Hypoglycemia is common among people with type 2 diabetes, according to a review published in June 2015 in the journal PLoS One. Individuals with the condition had an average of 19 mild or moderate episodes of hypoglycemia per year and nearly one severe episode per year on average, according to the researchers. Low blood sugar was particularly common among those taking insulin.
This decrease in blood sugar levels can cause both short-term complications, like confusion and dizziness, as well as more serious issues, including seizures, coma, and, rarely, death, according to the American Diabetes Association .
Hypoglycemia is usually the result of a too-high dose of insulin or a change in diet or exercise habits, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
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Can Low Blood Sugar Cause Dizziness
Low blood sugar can cause dizziness beside other symptoms.
- Glucose level < 60 mg/dl with symptoms that are relieved promptly after the glucose level is raised, document hypoglycemia.
- Low blood sugar with dizziness is usually seen in diabetic patients who are on anti-diabetic drugs and insulin and have an insulin overdose accidentally or otherwise.
- The first symptom in these patients is dizziness and disorientation if the blood sugar level decreases.
- Lack of glucose supply to the brain can result in brain dysfunction, like dizziness and if prolonged, leads to irreversible neuronal damage and death.
Treating Low Blood Sugar Levels
The diabetes health care team will give you clear guidelines about how to treat hypoglycemia, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
If it’s convenient, test the blood sugar levels before treating your child to confirm that the symptoms are due to hypoglycemia. If blood sugar can’t be checked immediately, don’t delay treating your child’s symptoms you can always do a test after getting the blood sugar back into the normal range.
When blood sugar levels are low, the goal is to get them back up quickly. To do that, give your child sugar or sugary foods that raise the blood glucose level quickly. In general, treatment for hypoglycemia involves:
- having your child eat or drink a form of glucose that works fast, like regular soda, orange juice, or cake frostingor having your child take special tablets or gels that contain glucose. Generally, symptoms will stop about 10 minutes after your child takes sugar.
- rechecking your child’s blood sugar to make sure that the level is no longer low and giving your child food to help prevent the blood sugar from dropping again
- giving glucagon , if symptoms are severe or get worse after your child is given sugar by mouth
For more severe cases of hypoglycemia in which seizures or loss of consciousness happen, giving sugar by mouth may be very difficult or even dangerous. In that case, a glucagon injection should be given.
When possible, adult family members and your child’s caregivers and school staff should know:
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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.
What Causes Hypoglycemia
If you have diabetes, there are common triggers to avoid. If youre diabetic and experience any of the above low blood sugar symptoms after any the following behaviors, its important to alert your physician to see whether you have dangerously low blood sugar.
- Too few carbohydrates. As carbohydrates are your bodys main source of glucose, not having enough of them can cause a drop in blood sugar.
- Skipping meals. Just like consuming too few carbohydrates, skipping meals can prevent your body from receiving the energy it needs from glucose.
- Strenuous physical activity. Exercising more than usual, especially if you haven’t eaten enough carbohydrates at a meal, can cause a hypoglycemic episode.
- Excessive drinking. Alcohol can interfere with your bodys ability to metabolize glucose.
- Not eating soon enough after insulin treatment. If you take insulin as prescribed during mealtimes, but delay eating, this can cause hypoglycemia.
- Too much insulin. If you take too much insulin, this can cause your blood sugar to crash.
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What If The 15
If you dont feel better after three tries, or if your symptoms get worse, call your healthcare provider or 911. Healthcare providers can use a medication called glucagon. They inject it with a needle or squirt it up your nose. Glucagon is also available for home use. Your healthcare provider can prescribe it and teach a family member or friend how to use it in the event of severe hypoglycemia.
Target Blood Sugar Levels For Type 2 Diabetes
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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 Can I Prevent Low Blood Sugar
Your best bet is to practice good diabetes management and learn to detect hypoglycemia so you can treat it earlybefore it gets worse.
Monitoring blood sugar, with either a meter or a CGM, is the tried and true method for preventing hypoglycemia. Studies consistently show that the more a person checks blood sugar, the lower his or her risk of hypoglycemia. This is because you can see when blood sugar levels are dropping and can treat it before it gets too low.
If you can, check often!
- Check before and after meals.
- Check before and after exercise .
- Check before bed.
- After intense exercise, also check in the middle of the night.
- Check more if things around you change such as, a new insulin routine, a different work schedule, an increase in physical activity, or travel across time zones.
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How Can I Prevent Hypoglycemic Episodes
The key to preventing hypoglycemic events is managing diabetes:
- Follow your healthcare providers instructions about food and exercise.
- Track your blood sugar regularly, including before and after meals, before and after exercise and before bed.
- Take all your medications exactly as prescribed.
- When you do have a hypoglycemic event, write it down. Include details such as the time, what you ate recently, whether you exercised, the symptoms and your glucose level.
What If I Have Severe Low Blood Glucose And Cant Treat Myself
Glucagona hormone that raises blood glucose levelsis the best way to treat severely low blood glucose. Available as an injection or a nasal spray, glucagon will quickly raise your blood glucose level. Your doctor can prescribe you a glucagon kit for use in case of an emergency.
If your blood glucose level drops very low, you wont be able to treat it by yourself. Be prepared to address severely low blood glucose by
- talking with your doctor or health care team about when and how to use a glucagon emergency kit. If you have an emergency kit, regularly check the date on the package to make sure it hasnt expired.
- teaching your family, friends, and coworkers when and how to give you glucagon. Tell them to call 911 right away after giving you glucagon or if you dont have a glucagon emergency kit with you.
- wearing a medical alert identification bracelet or pendant. A medical alert ID tells other people that you have diabetes and need care right away. Getting prompt care can help prevent the serious problems that low blood glucose levels can cause.
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Low Blood Glucose During Sleep
Your blood glucose level can drop while you sleep and stay low for several hours, causing serious problems.7 Symptoms of low blood glucose while you sleep can include
- crying out or having nightmares
- sweating enough to make your pajamas or sheets damp
- feeling tired, irritable, or confused after waking up
Although you may not wake up or notice any symptoms, low blood glucose can interfere with your sleep, which may affect your quality of life, mood, and ability to work. Having low blood glucose during sleep can also make you less likely to notice and respond to symptoms of low blood glucose during the day.
You’re Clammy And Sweatyfor No Obvious Reason
With hypoglycemia you may break out in a cold sweat even though youre not overheated, and you may get pale and feel clammy. This happens because low blood-sugar levels trigger the bodys fight or flight response and the release of adrenaline, a hormone. This adrenaline burst causes sweating along with other symptoms. People with type 1 diabetes commonly feel damp and sticky from hypoglycemia at intervals throughout a given week.
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What Extreme Conditions Can Occur If Hypoglycemia Is Left Untreated
Although severe episodes which can trigger potentially life-threatening comas are rare, they require immediate emergency room care, so its best to make sure you are tracking your blood sugar so that you never have to worry about getting to that point. A drop in blood sugar means less fuel for your brain, so its critical for your body to receive enough glucose. Hypoglycemia that leads to extended, reduced brain function is the biggest concern, as this can lead to seizures and loss of basic bodily functions controlled by the brain, which can ultimately lead to death, explains Dr. Dyer.
What Can I Do To Fix This And Get Healthy Again
With some minor life-style changes, you can see and feel big improvements quickly. Here are some things you should focus on:
- Lose Unwanted FatThis may not be fun, but its very important and its the first step in keeping your glucose in check.
- Eat Better Natural FoodsThis means lower glycemic foods, less carbohydrates, healthy proteins and fats. It also means to stay AWAY from processed, man-made foods. Also, make sure you eat often smaller meals throughout the day to stabilize your blood sugar and have lots of fiber as well.
- Exercise Daily Aerobic & AnaerobicExercise utilizes the carbohydrates you eat, so it keeps your blood sugar stable. Having more muscle also improves insulin sensitivity, which means less insulin is needed.
- Proper SupplementationThere are specific natural herbs, vitamins and minerals that can help stabilize your blood sugar, while also improving insulin sensitivity.
Simply making some small adjustments in each of these categories will mean fast results for you. Which means more energy, less body fat, better cognition and youâll simply look and feel YOUNGER!
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