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Managing Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

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What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar, is a condition where blood sugar levels are abnormally low. According to the Diabetes Canada clinical practice guidelines, hypoglycemia is officially defined as blood sugar levels less than 4.0 mmol/L. Severe hypoglycemia happens when blood sugar levels drop to 2.8 mmol/L or lower.


What causes hypoglycemia?

  • Some diabetes medications, such as insulin or sulfonylureas
  • Exercising more than usual
  • Not eating at the usual time (eating a meal later than you usually do)
  • Skipping a meal
  • Drinking alcohol


What are the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia?

Everyone reacts differently to low blood sugar. That’s why it’s important for you to know your own signs and symptoms, so that you can recognize a low and treat it quickly. The common signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia can include any of the following:

  • Feeling shaky
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Sweating
  • Feeling hungry
  • Headache
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling irritable or anxious
  • Pale skin
  • Clumsiness or jerky movements
  • Numbness or tingling in your mouth and tongue
  • Tingling in your hands
managing low blood sugar

How is hypoglycemia treated?

If you have checked your blood sugar, and confirmed that you have hypoglycemia, it can be treated with any of the following sources of carbohydrate:

  • 15 grams of glucose in the form of glucose tablets (this is the preferred method)
  • 15 mL (3 teaspoons) of sugar dissolved in water
  • 5 cubes of sugar
  • 150 mL (2/3 cup) of fruit juice or regular soft drink
  • 6 Life Saversä
  • 15 mL (1 tablespoon) of honey

Fifteen minutes after consuming the carbohydrate, check your blood sugar again. If it is still low (below 4.0 mmol/L), then consume another 15 grams of carbohydrate.

managing hypoglycemia

How is severe hypoglycemia treated?

Severe hypoglycemia (blood glucose levels 2.8 mmol/L or lower) can result in seizures and loss of consciousness. The treatment for severe hypoglycemia is an injection of glucagon.

If you are prone to frequent episodes of hypoglycemia, or have had severe hypoglycemia previously, it’s important that you have a glucagon kit handy at all times. It’s also very important that a family member, friend or caregiver knows how to inject the glucagon, as you won’t be able to do it yourself.

What about medical identification?

It’s a good idea for people with diabetes – and especially those who are at risk for hypoglycemia – to have medical identification with them at all times. Medical IDs are usually worn as a bracelet or necklace, and are etched with key information about your condition.

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