What is considered to be low blood sugar and what are the symptoms?
Hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, occurs when blood glucose levels fall below 4 mmol/L, which is too low to provide the energy your body needs for proper functioning. Hypoglycemia can be a side effect of insulin and of many oral diabetes medications, although not all of them. Managing hypoglycemia can be achieved with some knowledge about detecting symptoms and understanding ways to treat it.
Everyone reacts differently to low blood sugar. It is important for you to know your own signs of low blood glucose so that you can treat it quickly. The best way to know for sure that you are experiencing hypoglycemia is to check your blood glucose levels. If you do suspect it and are not able to test it, then you should treat it anyways, in order to avoid further issues from the low blood sugar.
Signs of hypoglycemia include:
- Feeling shaky, dizzy or weak
- Sudden mood swings , irritability anxiety
- Pale skin
- Clumsiness or jerky movements
- Feeling tingly or numbness around the mouth or tongue
- Lack of consciousness
When medications are the culprit
If the treatment plan includes a medication with a higher chance of causing hypoglycemia, be prepared to manage the low blood sugar. It will almost certainly occur at some point, no matter how much care is given to diabetes management. The best advice is to learn to recognize the signs and check blood glucose levels, so that it can be caught early and quickly treated.
How to manage low blood sugar
If blood glucose checking confirms hypoglycemia, you should immediately take 15 grams of sugar or carbohydrates to raise blood glucose.
Suitable foods include the following:
15g glucose in the form of glucose tablets (this is the preferred way)
175 ml (3/4 cup) juice or regular soft drink
6 Life Savers®
15 mL (1 tablespoon) of honey
15 mL (3 teaspoons) of sugar dissolved in water.
After 15 minutes, check blood glucose levels again. If it is still too low, the treatment should be repeated.
This is a good place for the reminder that you should always wear a MedicAlert® bracelet. Untreated hypoglycemia can lead to severe disorientation, seizure or lack of consciousness.
If insulin is being used, family and friends should understand how to use glucagon in case of an emergency. If your loved one passes out, glucagon should immediately be injected. If glucagon is not available, call your emergency number for an ambulance. Discuss the use of glucagon with a diabetes healthcare team member.