- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
What is Hypoglycemia: Low Blood Sugar
Low Blood Sugar Can Result in a Medical Emergency
If you or a loved one suffers from hypoglycemia, also known as low blood glucose or low blood sugar, the condition can be a serious one if not treated appropriately and immediately.
The condition is one in which blood sugar - which provides energy required for the body and its internal organs to operate effectively - falls dangerously low. The result is that a physical condition of fight or flight occurs with the body literally struggling to function.
Hypoglycemia may result from a number of causes, but is most often seen in diabetics that have been prescribed insulin or other medications, persons that eat infrequently, after prolonged exercise or exertion, and/or after ingesting too much alcohol.
When hypoglycemia strikes, your body goes into a state of emergency. With inadequate blood glucose reaching your cells to perform properly, the most critical organs are served first - the heart and lungs - which draws away blood sugar from the brain, resulting in confusion or even loss of consciousness. At extremely low blood sugar levels, the body may completely shut down. The patient may end up in a coma, or worse.
As a Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetic, I have experienced a number of extremely low glucose episodes. We have had to call the medics half a dozen times - usually at night - to administer emergency treatment. However, hypoglycemia usually can be recognized and usually treated fairly rapidly. Quick treatment is key to saving lives.
** Disclaimer: This hub is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Be sure to consult a doctor if you suspect hypoglycemia in yourself or a loved one
Recognize the Signs of Hypoglycemia
In general, low blood sugar is defined as a level less than 70 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood: (70 mg/dl). At levels below 50 mg/dl, a person may rapidly deteriorate and must be treated immediately.
A normal blood sugar range is generally considered to be 80-110 mg/dl. A home blood sugar meter, or a professional grade blood glucose monitor, can detect low and high levels.
Hypoglycemia can be easily missed or even mistaken for another, less serious condition. You would rather be wrong in suspecting hypoglycemia, however, than to dismiss these symptoms for a more benign condition such as exhaustion or anxiety.
The signs of hypoglycemia include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
- Mood changes
- Feeling faint
- Inability to concentrate
- "Bouncing" or blurred vision
- Inability to form coherent sentences
- Appearing to be intoxicated
If you recognize two of more of these symptoms, take immediate action. Not all of these signs may be present, particularly if the person has hypoglycemic unawareness.
Tips and treatments for both a patient, and a person suspecting hypoglycemia in another, are set forth in detail below.
Have You Experienced Hypoglycemia?
Treat Your Own Hypoglycemia
If you are diabetic and/or take medications that are known to lower blood sugar levels, its is advisable that you wear medical identification jewelry. If you lose consciousness or are otherwise unable to communicate with someone trying to help, an alert tag, bracelet or necklace can provide easy to locate information concerning your name, emergency contact number and medical condition.
People that are aware they are subject to hypoglycemia usually carry emergency sugar supplies in the form of glucose tabs, gels, granola bars and/or juice boxes. However, sometimes even advance planning can leave you short-handed.
Personally, I have suffered hypoglycemic episodes while hiking, running a marathon, during a City Council presentation, and in the middle of an exercise class.
The following are self-care tips for patients experiencing signs of hypoglycemia:
- Always carry a cell phone
- Wear medical identification jewelry
- Advise a friend, roommate or loved one when you leave, where you are going, your expected route, and when you will arrive at your destination
- Always carry emergency supplies - at least 15 grams of fast acting carbohydrates
- Treat first, then test your blood sugar
- Keep a glucagon pen handy
- Do not hesitate to ask for help - I have walked into convenience stores and restaurants asking for orange juice and someone to call my husband to help me in a low blood sugar episode
- Try not to panic - calm your breathing and sit/rest while you wait for emergency carbohydrates to take action
- If you still do not feel better within 5 minutes, test your blood sugar again
- Call 911 if you feel like you might lose consciousness even if you have already treated low blood glucose
Treating Another Person's Low Blood Sugar
Resources for Hypoglycemia
Helping Another Person with Hypoglycemia
If you suspect a friend, loved one, or even a stranger is suffering from low blood glucose, take the following steps:
- Check for a medic alert tag or bracelet
- Ask them to sit down and inquire as to how they are feeling. Keep in mind that the person will often claim they are just fine.
- If they are clammy, sweaty, shaky or disoriented, either treat low blood sugar or call for emergency medical attention, depending on the severity of symptoms
- If the person is non-responsive or not cooperative, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.
- If a loss of consciousness occurs or they cannot swallow, do not try to force consumption of food or drink. Glucose gels or frosting can be rubbed on the patient's gums with a fingertip
- Mild low blood sugar episodes can usually be treated without medical intervention. Offer a drink of juice or other beverage with sugar, such as cola or lemonade: at least 8 fluid ounces (2500 ml), to start. Keep in mind that beverages with protein/fat, such as milk, will digest more slowly and is not as effective as an emergency treatment for low blood sugar.
- Ask them to test their blood sugar, if they know they are diabetic. A level below 50mg/dl may require professional medical attention, even if they are conscious
- After treating with a sugar drink, or 4-6 , prepare a snack or meal for the patient with at least 15 grams of carbohydrates, ideally combined with protein to slow the digestion and prevent a rapid sugar spike glucose tablets
- If the person is belligerent and/or refuses treatment, you may need to call 911.
- Sit with them and talk in a calm, re-assuring voice while you await medics' arrival.
- If you know how to use a glucagon kit and one is available, you may wish to attempt to do so pending the arrival of medical professionals.