What is hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia, also called low blood glucose or low blood sugar, happens when your blood glucose drops below normal levels. Glucose comes from food and is an important source of energy for the body.
Hypoglycemia can happen suddenly. It’s usually mild and can be easily treated by eating or drinking something with glucose. But if it isn’t treated, hypoglycemia can cause confusion, clumsiness, or fainting. Severe hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.
It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia and be prepared how to correct it.
What are the symptoms of hypoglycemia?
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Difficulty speaking
Sometimes, hypoglycemia can happen while you sleep. Symptoms include:
- Crying out or having nightmares
- Finding pajamas or sheets damp from perspiration
- Feeling tired, irritable, or confused when you wake up
What causes hypoglycemia?
People with diabetes who take certain glucose-lowering medications may be at risk for hypoglycemia for a variety of reasons:
- Eating meals or snacks that are too small, delayed, or skipped
- Taking too much insulin or other blood-glucose-lowering medications
- Increasing exercise or physical activity
- Drinking alcohol
Does hypoglycemia happen to people who don’t have diabetes?
It’s not as common, but people who don’t have diabetes can experience hypoglycemia. Non-diabetic hypoglycemia usually appears in two forms:
- Reactive hypoglycemia, which occurs within 4 hours after meals. People with reactive hypoglycemia should follow a healthy eating plan recommended by a registered dietitian
- Fasting hypoglycemia, which can be caused by certain medications, critical illnesses, hereditary deficiencies, and some kinds of tumors. The treatment targets the underlying problem
Symptoms of both reactive and fasting hypoglycemia are similar to diabetes-related hypoglycemia: hunger, sweating, shakiness, dizziness, light-headedness, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty speaking, anxiety, and weakness.
How is hypoglycemia treated?
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people who suffer from hypoglycemic reactions carry 15-20 grams of glucose with them at all times.1
To quickly and easily raise blood sugar levels to their normal range, many healthcare professionals recommend products that contain specially formulated glucose. Products like Insta-Glucose offer a variety of advantages:
- Delivers 24 grams of fast-acting, rapidly absorbed glucose
- Always ready to use
- Pre-measured to ensure you always get the exact amount of glucose you need
- Gel formulation is easier to swallow than tablets, without the time delay of dissolving
- Convenient twist-off cap and squeeze tube
- No need for refrigeration
- 3-pack lets you keep single-dose tubes in up to three locations: car, work, school, wherever!
- Great-tasting cherry flavor
After taking the glucose, wait 15 minutes and check your blood sugar again. If it’s back in your target range, great. But if it’s still too low, eat another 15-20 grams of pure glucose and check again in another 15 minutes.
What about hypoglycemia and driving?
Hypoglycemia can be very dangerous if it happens while driving. It can cause confusion, blurred vision, and may interfere with making good decisions.
To prevent problems, people at risk for hypoglycemia should check their blood glucose level before driving. During longer trips, they should check their blood glucose level frequently and eat snacks to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
What is hypoglycemia unawareness?
Some people with diabetes don’t experience the early warning signs of low blood glucose, a condition called hypoglycemia unawareness. It occurs most often in people with type 1 diabetes, but it can also happen in people with type 2 diabetes. People with hypoglycemia unawareness may need to check their blood glucose level more often so they know when hypoglycemia is about to occur. They also may need a change in their medications, meal plan, or physical activity routine.
(milligrams per deciliter)
How do you prevent hypoglycemia?
Working with your doctor, you can do a lot to prevent hypoglycemic emergencies:
- Learn what can trigger low blood glucose levels
- Know your blood sugar range and check your blood sugar regularly with a blood glucose monitor, especially if you’re about to drive or if you’ve experienced hypoglycemia unawareness. For people with diabetes, a blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) is considered hypoglycemia
- Take your blood glucose-lowering medications at the same time each day
- Don’t skip meals. And keep specially formulated glucose products or snacks handy
- Work with a registered dietitian to develop a meal plan that’s right for you. People with diabetes should eat regular meals, have enough food at each meal, and not skip meals or snacks
- Drinking alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, can cause hypoglycemia, even a day or two later. Heavy drinking can be particularly dangerous for people taking insulin or medications that increase insulin production. Always have a snack or a meal when drinking alcohol
- Exercise can lower your blood sugar. Check your blood glucose level before and during physical activity. And have snack if your level is too low
- Wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace
- Tell family, friends, and coworkers about the symptoms of hypoglycemia and how they can help if needed
Normal and target blood glucose ranges2
|Normal blood glucose levels in people who do not have diabetes|
|Upon waking - fasting||70 to 99 mg/dL|
|After meals||70 to 140 mg/dL|
|Target blood glucose levels in people who have diabetes|
|Before Meals||70 to 130 mg/dL|
|1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal||Below 180 mg/dL|
Insta-Glucose has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
1. Accessed June 17, 2010, online at http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html.
2. Source: American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2008. Diabetes Care. 2008;31:S12–S54.