Everyone needs blood sugar (glucose) because it provides essential fuel for the body and mind. However, for people with diabetes, getting the right amount of glucose is critical because low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can lead to stupor, confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures or other severe complications. If you or a loved one has diabetes, it’s important to understand the warning signs of hypoglycemia and what to do during a low blood sugar emergency.
“Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels fall lower than normal and can lead to life-threating complications,” said Felice A. Caldarella, MD, MBA, FACP, CDCES, FACE, president of The American Association of Clinical Endocrinology (AACE). “Hypoglycemia causes approximately 100,000 emergency room visits per year in the U.S., and diabetics are at the highest risk of experiencing a low blood sugar episode.”
In addition to having diabetes, Dr. Caldarella shares other common risk factors for hypoglycemia:
Age: Speak with your health care team to find out how this may affect you.
Diet: Having irregular eating habits, such as skipping a meal or eating less than usual (if using a sulfonylurea, which is a medication that causes insulin to be secreted from the pancreas regardless of what your blood sugar level is or insulin).
Activeness: Increasing your physical activity, especially without enough nutrition.
Drinking: Consuming an excessive amount of alcohol.
To spread the word about hypoglycemia, the AACE team created The Lowdown on Low Blood Sugar campaign. For people with diabetes, low blood sugar typically occurs when blood sugar levels fall below 70 mg/dl, though this may differ from person to person. It’s key to understand the symptoms of hypoglycemia and what to do during an episode.
Mild hypoglycemia symptoms:
- Nausea and dizziness
- Fast heartbeat
- Sweating and/or chills
- Unusual irritability or moodiness
Actions to take:
If you or a loved one are experiencing mild symptoms of hypoglycemia, act quickly by following the “Rule of 15” by eating 15 grams of high sugar foods, drinks or medications to get your blood sugar back up. Then re-check your blood sugar after 15 minutes. If your blood sugar is still low, consume another 15 grams of carbohydrates and check your blood sugar again after 15 minutes. If your blood sugar fails to return to normal levels after two tries of the Rule of 15, you could experience severe symptoms and may need medical attention.
Severe hypoglycemia symptoms:
- Blurred or impaired vision
- Coordination problems or clumsiness
- Tingling or numbness in the lips, tongue or cheeks
- Color draining from the skin
Actions to take:
If you or a loved one has severe hypoglycemia symptoms and have access, administer hypoglycemic rescue therapy via injected or nasal glucagon as prescribed by your doctor. Do not inject insulin, as this will further lower blood sugar. If you start to feel very sleepy or your blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL, have someone take you to the hospital immediately or call 911 for medical assistance.
Hypoglycemia can sneak up on you. It might be the day you skipped a meal, exercised more than usual, or took too much of the wrong medication. Know the symptoms and work with your health care team, including endocrinologists, to come up with a treatment plan that is right for you, which may include substituting medications known to potentially produce low blood sugar reactions with other ones that do not.
Endocrinologists are specially trained doctors that are qualified to diagnose and treat diabetes and hormone-related diseases and conditions, including hypoglycemia. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed, speak with your health care professional to adjust medications accordingly. You may even consider scheduling an appointment with an endocrinologist in your area.
A network of support:
Did you know 31% of severe low blood sugar related events happen outside the home? Fifty-seven percent of patients experience lows at least once a night, and one-third of adults with diabetes worry about driving safely because of serious problems from low blood sugar. That’s why it’s important for you, your family and friends to all know the signs and symptoms of a low blood sugar emergency and how to manage it.
Support for hypoglycemia provided by: Lily Diabetes, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, Medtronic.
Visit www.bloodsugarlows.com to learn more about hypoglycemia.