Good diabetes management involves controlling blood glucose. Studies have shown that keeping blood glucose levels close to normal helps prevent long-term complications. However, it can also increase the risk of having low blood glucose. It is essential to recognize and treat symptoms quickly. Quick treatment can prevent severe effects.
Low blood glucose occurs when the glucose level in the blood falls below 4.0 mmol/L. Below this level the body is not supplied with the energy it needs.
Someone with low blood glucose may feel tired, dizzy, confused, anxious, hungry or weak. Sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, and tingling or numb lips are also signs. Not all people have exactly the same symptoms.
Changes in everyday activities are the most common cause of low blood glucose. These changes may include:
If you take one or more of the following medications to treat your diabetes, it is possible for your blood glucose to fall below 4.0 mmol/L.
It is unlikely that you will experience low blood glucose symptoms if you manage your diabetes through diet and physical activity alone, or use only these medications:
1If you have symptoms, check your blood glucose. If it is less than 4 mmol/L, your blood glucose is too low. If it is not possible to check, treat your symptoms as if you have low blood glucose.
2Eat or drink 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate, such as one of the following:
If you are taking acarbose (Glucobay®), you must use glucose tablets or 1-¼ cups of skim milk to raise your blood glucose level. Acarbose slows down the absorption of other fast-acting carbohydrates.
Glucose (also known as dextrose) tablets work faster than other types of treatment to raise the blood glucose level. Keep these tablets readily available at home, at work, and with you at all times.
When treating low blood glucose, remember to eat or drink only the 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate until your blood glucose rises above 4.0 mmol/L. Low blood glucose can cause anxiety that may make you feel like you need to eat more right away. However, if you eat too much, your blood glucose may become very high.
Check with your diabetes educator for the recommended amount of fast-acting carbohydrate to use in treating children.
3 Recheck your blood glucose after 15 minutes. If it is still below 4.0 mmol/L, treat again with another 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate.
4 Once your blood glucose level is above 4.0 mmol/L, have your normal meal or snack. If your next meal is more than an hour away, make sure your snack includes 15 grams of carbohydrate and a protein source. For instance, choose six crackers with peanut butter or cheese, or half of a meat, peanut butter or cheese sandwich. This should prevent low blood glucose before your next meal or snack.
Know the symptoms of low blood glucose and how to treat it. Tell family, friends, and coworkers what to watch for and how to help. Let them know that low blood glucose may make you act as if you were drunk. Low blood glucose can also cause confusion that makes it difficult for you to treat yourself. Quick treatment can prevent mild low blood glucose from becoming more serious.
Noticing and treating symptoms of low blood glucose immediately prevents blood glucose levels from dropping to a level that can cause unconsciousness or seizures. You need emergency assistance immediately if you are unable to swallow or unconscious. First, 911 or emergency assistance should be called. Glucagon, a hormone, can be given by injection to quickly raise the blood glucose level of an unconscious person. Only someone who has been trained to inject glucagon should do so.
Knowing about low blood glucose helps to prevent it. Notice and quickly treat low blood glucose to stop it from becoming more serious. This keeps you safe as you try to achieve good diabetes control. Melanie knew what to do when her husband Norm showed symptoms. Now, you do too!