Hypoglycemia and Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
For most of us living with diabetes, the topic of conversation usually revolves around avoiding unwanted spikes in blood sugar, otherwise known as hyperglycemia. While high blood glucose levels are certainly a valid concern, we don’t want to overlook the other side of the coin - that being low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood sugar falls below the level targeted by your diabetes physician and care team. For most of us, this is any instance when blood sugar drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). However, yours might be different, so it’s important to talk with your doctor to gauge what constitutes a low blood sugar reading in your individual case.
Speaking of readings, the best way to avoid hypoglycemia is the same as the best way to avoid hyperglycemia. Test your blood sugar regularly! This is the only way to clinically know for certain whether or not you’re experiencing low blood sugar. There are some symptoms of low blood sugar that we will get into, however, these signs don’t always present themselves right away and hypoglycemia is something you’re better off addressing ASAP. So, before we go any further, remember to stick to your doctor-prescribed diabetes testing and treatment schedule.
What causes hypoglycemia?
As everyone with diabetes knows, blood sugar levels will fluctuate throughout the day. This is perfectly normal because what and when you eat, what you drink, how active you are, and when and how much insulin or other medications you take all impact blood sugar level one way or the other. So, what causes hypoglycemia?
- Too much medication
Low blood sugar is far more common among diabetics who require insulin treatments, whether they prefer administering it by insulin syringe or using pen needles. Because insulin is prescribed to enhance the body’s ability to process blood sugar and turn it into energy, if you take more insulin than your body requires, you’re going to process more blood sugar than normal. This will lead to low blood sugar.
- Skipping meals and snacks or not eating enough
Eating tends to elevate blood sugar. When you adhere to a relatively consistent eating and portion schedule, it’s easy to compensate with medication or by watching what you eat. If you miss meals, however, the treatment program you are currently using to keep your blood sugar from going too high may actually cause your blood sugar levels to dip too low.
- Increasing physical activity
Exercise is great for those with diabetes. It naturally lowers blood sugar levels which makes it easier to manage those highs. But if you suddenly increase your activity level and make no adjustments to your treatment plan (in other words, you take the same amount of insulin you did before increasing activity), it can certainly drop blood sugar levels below your target line.
4, Excessive alcohol consumption
While moderate amounts of alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise, drinking too much can have the opposite effect. Excessive alcohol consumption causes an increase in insulin secretion which can lead to low blood sugar.
Signs of hypoglycemia
As your blood sugar starts to drop, it signals the body to produce adrenaline, the same hormone responsible for the “fight or flight” syndrome. So, it only makes sense that the initial signs of low blood sugar include the following:
– Racing heart
– Feeling anxious or nervous
– Feeling shaky
– Irritability or impatience
If low blood sugar isn’t addressed after experiencing these symptoms, it will continue to drop and soon the brain will not receive enough glucose to function properly. As hypoglycemia progresses, symptoms might include:
– Blurry vision
– Slurred speech
– Feeling sleepy or weak
If the condition is still not addressed things can become very serious, very quickly. As the brain becomes starved for glucose, it can result in seizures, coma, and, in rare instances, even death.
Treatment for low blood sugar
As mentioned earlier, low blood sugar for most of us is defined as anything below 70 mg/dL. The good news is should your glucose meter read below 70, getting your blood sugar back into your target range is probably very simple. According to the American Diabetes Association ADA, the first thing you should do is apply the “15-15 Rule”.
The 15-15 Rule
This ADA recommended rule goes as follows. If you experience a blood sugar reading below 70 mg/dL, eat 15 grams of carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar and then retest your blood sugar after 15 minutes. If you’re still measuring low, go ahead and consume another 15 grams of carbohydrates and retest yourself in another 15 minutes. Keep repeating this cycle until your blood sugar is back to normal.
So where do you get those 15 grams of carbohydrates? First off, it’s important to choose the right kind of carbs. In this case, you want fast results, so you should avoid slow-absorption carbs, such as vegetables and whole grains. Go for the speedy stuff like:
– ½ cup of juice or regular soda
– 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey
– A few hard candies or jellybeans can do the trick, too.
Another key is to take things gradually. You don’t want to consume too much in a manic effort to elevate your blood sugar. This can actually lead you to hyperglycemia, which only serves to compound the problem. Use the step-by-step approach outlined by the 15-15 Rule and you’ll do just fine.
In cases of severe hypoglycemia, it’s too late for the 15-15 Rule. It also means you’ve entered the danger zone for dangerous complications. The treatment for severe hypoglycemia is called Glucagon, a hormone produced in the pancreas that stimulates the liver to release stored glucose into the bloodstream, thereby elevating blood sugar levels.
Glucagon is only available by prescription and is either injected or administer nasally. Here’s the catch. Someone who is experiencing severe hypoglycemia may not be conscious or able to administer Glucagon themselves. So, if you’re diabetic, particularly if you experience frequent bouts of hypoglycemia, teach your friends, family members, coworkers, and anyone you spend a lot of time with how to give you a Glucagon treatment. You never know ... and it’s better safe than sorry.
Prevention is the best medicine.
Remember, the best way to avoid hypoglycemia is to test your blood sugar regularly and follow your doctor-prescribed medication program. The sooner you spot indications of low blood sugar, the easier it is to remedy the situation and quickly bring your blood sugar and diabetes back under control.
If you experience frequent drops in blood sugar, it’s important to speak with your diabetes physician. This may be an indication that you need to adjust your medication or treatment plan in order to reduce the risk of future episodes.
We hope you found this post informative and helpful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to keeping you up to date with the latest news and tips on living with diabetes. We’re also committed to saving you up to 65% on doctor-recommended diabetic supplies from leading manufacturers, such as Accu-Chek, OneTouch, FreeStyle, Dexcom, Easy Comfort, Medtronic, TRUEmetrix and many others.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.