Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)

What is Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)?

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a potentially dangerous condition that’s most common in people with diabetes. Hypoglycemia happens when your blood sugar drops to less than 70 mg/d. However, some people have symptoms of low blood sugar even when their blood sugar levels are higher.

What Causes Low Blood Sugar?

Low blood sugar can occur for a number of reasons. However, it’s usually a side effect of taking diabetes medications. Other reasons may include:

  • Consuming an excessive amount of alcohol.
  • Age. Speak with your clinician to find out how this may affect you.
  • Having irregular eating habits, such as skipping a meal or eating less than usual (if using a sulfonylurea or insulin).
  • Increasing your physical activity without enough nutrition.
  • Using excessive amount of insulin.

What Are Common Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar?

Part of being prepared for a low blood sugar episode is knowing the signs and symptoms so you can act fast. Typically, these symptoms can range from early and mild to more severe.

Early, milder symptoms can include:

  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating and/or chills
  • Clamminess
  • Unusual irritability or moodiness

Severe symptoms can include:

  • Blurred or impaired vision
  • Coordination problems or clumsiness
  • Tingling or numbness in the lips, tongue or cheeks
  • Color draining from the skin
  • Seizures
  • Confusion

How Can People Be Prepared for a Low Blood Sugar Emergency?

Talk to your diabetes care team about your blood glucose targets and what treatment options are right for you. Many people with diabetes keep an emergency hypoglycemia rescue kit on hand. This kit could contain candy, juice, sugar or medication such as glucagon (e.g. injected or via nasal spray). Glucagon is available only by prescription. Talk to your diabetes care team to learn more.

Once you become aware that you are experiencing a low blood sugar emergency, it’s important to know what actions to take. Also, your support circle (family, friends, co-workers) should know the necessary steps to take if you experience a low blood sugar emergency:

  • For Milder Emergencies
    • Follow the “Rule of 15” by eating 15 grams of carbohydrates or simple sugars, and then rechecking your blood sugar level after 15 minutes. If your blood sugar is still low, consume another 15 grams of carbohydrates and recheck again after 15 minutes.
    • Continue to do this until your blood sugar is at your target level. To avoid another low, eat a meal or snack that combined fat and protein when your blood sugar is back to normal.
  • For Severe Emergencies
    • Administer emergency hypoglycemia rescue therapy, which contains any delivery method of glucagon (e.g. injected or via nasal spray — available by prescription only). Do not inject insulin, which will lower a person's blood sugar more. In the event of a severe case of low blood sugar, they should also learn to administer emergency hypoglycemia rescue therapy. If needed, you should take a loved one to the hospital or call for medical assistance immediately.
    • Additionally, AACE’s My Diabetes Emergency Plan is a convenient checklist that contains all the essential items those with diabetes need to have readily available in the event of an emergency scenario such as a hurricane or pandemic.

An endocrinologist is a specially trained doctor who is qualified to diagnose and treat hormone-related diseases and conditions, including diabetes and hypoglycemia. Ask your endocrinologist to help you establish a plan to be prepared in the event of a low blood sugar emergency. Find endocrine care in your area.

Learn more about hypoglycemia at www.bloodsugarlows.com.