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Treating low blood glucose: Know the signs and steps to take

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 glucose?

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 getting your blood sugar back in range, then consider what might have caused it to help prevent it next time.

Low blood glucose warning signs

Everyone is different, but low blood glucose is often marked by:2

  • Feeling weak, sleepy or light headed
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating or chills
  • Headache or lack of concentration
  • Tingling or numbness in the lips or tongue
  • Blurred vision
  • Crying or irritability
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Hunger or nausea

Not sure about how you're feeling? Check. After all, some the symptoms of high blood glucose, such as fatigue, headaches or trouble concentrating, can be similar to the symptoms of a low.2 A quick blood glucose test is the simple way to know for sure what's happening in your body.

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, fine-tuning your insulin therapy to help you avoid lows.

How to treat a low

When you're low, you have one goal: bring up your blood glucose levels. Some people use the "15/15 Rule" as a reminder—eat 15 grams of carbohydrates, then wait 10 or 15 minutes and check your level again. Repeat this process as needed.3

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.3

Untreated low blood sugar

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.

2WebMD. High blood sugar and diabetes. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/diabetes-hyperglycemia. Accessed September 7, 2016.

3Medline Plus. 15/15 rule. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19815.htm. Accessed April 28, 2016.

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