If you have diabetes, most likely you try your best to keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. But despite even the best of efforts, most people with diabetes will experience hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, at some point.
Although hypoglycemia is fairly common and can be treated quickly, it’s important to prepare for the condition and know how to act right away. Without immediate treatment, hypoglycemia can be dangerous for people with diabetes. The good news? It can be treated easily with a little planning.
Here are the keys to managing hypoglycemia:
1. Know your signs.
Many people with diabetes can feel when their blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels begin to drop too low. But these signs and symptoms aren’t the same for everyone. Make sure you understand how your body reacts to low blood glucose levels. Common signs include dizziness, hunger, shakiness, sweatiness, headache, moodiness, nervousness, confusion, and weakness. Pay attention to these signals and check your blood glucose to confirm when levels drop.
2. Understand your meds.
If you take insulin for your diabetes, it’s important to know that you’re at higher risk for hypoglycemia. But there are many other types of diabetes medication that can also increase the risk, even with strict management of the disease. They include glipizide (Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), and repaglinide (Prandin). Ask your doctor if your medications increase the risk for hypoglycemia.
3. Test, test, test.
It’s important to carry a blood glucose meter with you so you can test your blood glucose levels regularly, including when you feel they’re too low. By catching low glucose levels right away, you not only begin to recognize your body’s signals, but can treat the problem before it gets worse.
4. Stash some sugars.
Low blood sugar can occur at any time, so it’s important to be prepared to treat it. If your blood glucose level falls below 70 mg/dl, have a “quick fix” snack that contains 15 grams of carbohydrates. This is enough to raise most low blood glucose levels. Ideas include a half cup of fruit juice, five or six hard candies, 2 tablespoons of raisins, four or five saltine crackers, or three to four glucose tablets. Always carry quick fix foods with you, including in the car or at work, so you’re never without them.
After having the snack, wait 15 minutes and check your blood glucose levels again. If they are still too low, have another serving. If you feel like your blood sugar levels are low but have no way to test it, play it safe and treat it.
5. Prepare for an emergency.
If hypoglycemia isn’t treated quickly enough, you may pass out. If this happens, you need immediate treatment. Your doctor can prescribe glucagon, which is injected like insulin and can raise blood glucose levels very quickly. If you take insulin, carry glucagon with you and tell your friends and family how to use it. If glucagon isn’t available and you are suffering from severe hypoglycemia, your friends or family should call 911. To protect yourself if loved ones are not around, wear a medical bracelet that informs others of your condition.
6. Take steps to prevent it.
Although hypoglycemia can happen to anyone, you can take steps to reduce your risk. For example, try to stick to your dietary plan as much as possible. Eat regular meals and snacks. And make sure you eat enough at each sitting. Be careful with alcohol, which can lower blood glucose levels. Eat before and while you’re drinking alcohol to counter its effects. And ask your doctor if you should have a snack before exercise, especially if your blood sugar tends to drop with activity.
7. Report regular problems.
If you experience hypoglycemia multiple times a week, talk with your doctor. People whose blood sugar repeatedly drops are at risk for developing hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition in which your body no longer senses when it needs treatment. Changing or adjusting your medications may help.