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Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) symptoms and treatment

You may recognize the feeling—feeling hungry, dizzy, sweaty or just a little bit "off." These signs of hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, mean it's time to take action.

What causes low blood sugar?

For most people, low blood glucose refers to anything below 70 mg/dL, although your number may be different.1

Low blood glucose can be caused by taking too much medication, not having enough to eat or exercising. Don't be too hard on yourself, though. Just focus on getting your blood sugar back in range, then consider what might have caused it to help prevent it next time.

Low blood sugar symptoms

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Light headedness or dizziness
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Numb lips or fingers
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration or behaving strangely

Infographic detailing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) warning signs, including shaking, dizziness, headache, and hunger

How to treat low blood sugar

Perform a blood glucose test. If you have low blood glucose, follow the 15-15 rule:

  1. Eat or drink 15 grams of fast-acting carbs
  2. Wait 10 to 15 minutes
  3. Check blood glucose and, if it's still low, repeat

Foods for low blood sugar

For 15 grams of carbohydrates, try:1

  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice or regular (nondiet) soda
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey
  • Jellybeans or hard candies—see the package to determine how many
  • Premeasured glucose tabs or gel

Once your blood glucose has stabilized in a safe range, eat longer-acting carbohydrates such as a sandwich, yogurt or fruit.2

Some people don't feel any warning signs of low blood glucose. This is known as "hypoglycemia unawareness."1 If you can't feel low blood glucose coming on, talk to your healthcare provider about carefully monitoring your blood glucose levels and fine-tuning your insulin therapy to help you avoid lows.

What happens if your blood sugar is too low?

If untreated, low blood glucose can quickly become an emergency. In cases of severe hypoglycemia, you may be unable to eat something to treat the low. That's why your healthcare provider has probably recommended that you carry a glucagon kit. When given to you by another person, this injection of the hormone glucagon quickly stimulates your body to produce the glucose you need.1

Talk to your friends and family about what signs to look for and, if needed, how to use the glucagon kit in an emergency.

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1American Diabetes Association. Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-gl.... Accessed April 28, 2016.

2Medline Plus. 15/15 rule. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19815.htm. Accessed April 28, 2016.

Infographic sources:

Diabetes Australia. Hypoglycaemia. Available at: www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/hypoglycaemeia. Accessed June 30, 2015.

Medline Plus. 15/15 rule. Available at: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19815.htm. Accessed June 30, 2015.

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