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What Is Hypoglycemia: Low Blood Sugar

Updated on October 14, 2017
stephhicks68 profile image

Stephanie Hicks has been a type 1 diabetic for 15 years. She manages the disease with an insulin pump, doctor visits, diet, and exercise.

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, if not fatal 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

Confusion can be a sign of Hypoglycemia
Confusion can be a sign of Hypoglycemia | Source

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:

  • Shakiness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Feeling faint
  • Confusion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unsteadiness
  • "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.

Hypoglycemia Explained

Blood glucose monitor can identify high or low blood sugar levels
Blood glucose monitor can identify high or low blood sugar levels | Source

Have You Experienced Hypoglycemia?

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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

Testing blood sugar
Testing blood sugar | Source

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:

  1. Check for a medic alert tag or bracelet
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. If the person is non-responsive or not cooperative, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. After treating with a sugar drink, or 4-6 glucose tablets, 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
  9. If the person is belligerent and/or refuses treatment, you may need to call 911.
  10. Sit with them and talk in a calm, re-assuring voice while you await medics' arrival.
  11. 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.

Hypoglycemia vs. Diabetes

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks

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    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you! Hypoglycemia is scary, both for the person suffering from it and anyone witnessing! It is a terrible, helpless feeling. But with proper knowledge and preparation, fortunately it can be quickly treated so that lives can be saved. All the best, Steph

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 

      6 years ago from Central Virginia

      Great information. For those that don't recognize the symptoms of low sugars, this could be a life saver. It's all about educating and you've done a fabulous job. Voted up and shared!

    • nicediabetes profile image

      nicediabetes 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Great information giving a great bird eye view for the old fashioned hypo. Love it!

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 

      6 years ago from Central Virginia

      Wonderful hub and great information !

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you teaches - glad to hear that you are doing better! Steph

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Very good advice! I used to have this until I learned how to eat healthier and exercise. It's a lifesaving hub post!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi dahgolund - sorry to hear you had to go to the hospital twice! You are right that a diabetic or other person that is subject to hypoglycemia should always carry glucose tabs or other emergency sugar supplies just in case. Wishing you good health, Steph

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I have had this problem when I was first diabetic and ended up in emergency rooms twice. I have since learned more about it. Hubs like yours are useful to people who are new to it by making them aware. Even though I do not have much problem now, sometimes my blood sugar does get low and I keeps gloucose tablets available in case I need a quick boost.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Susie - I was thinking about teachers, babysitters and parents of kids who have diabetic friends, as well. As a cub scout leader, I've had a few kids with extreme allergies, but no type 1 diabetic children yet. Best to you, Steph

    • susiebrown48 profile image

      susiebrown48 

      6 years ago from Clearwater, FL

      Well written, sage advice - I've had a childhood friend of the family suffer low blood sugar while in my care and was ill-prepared at the time. I can tell you it was the last time I was ill-prepared for it for sure!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi algarveview,

      I cannot imagine how scary that would be to see symptoms of hypoglycemia in an infant. When they cannot communicate, but something is clearly wrong. My heart goes out to you and others that endure such an ordeal as parents. All the best, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you very much, Injured lamb. I do hope that my experiences and knowledge about hypoglycemia can help others. Best, Steph

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 

      6 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hello, Steph, great information, extremelly useful, the sort of thing we all should be aware of. My little boy, when he was born, had hypoglycemia and it was very scary, so scary indeed that for about two or three months I was always looking for signs something might be wrong with him and then I started obsessing with how much milk he had to drink, if it was enough... so on and so forth. Rushed to the hospital quite a few times... the worst thing was, he was not able to let me know what he was feeling, so I was always on the lookout... Fortunatelly there were no other problems after that... Anyway, great hub. Voted up and useful and sharing! Have a great day!

    • Injured lamb profile image

      Injured lamb 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this informative hub about hypoglycemia to us stephhicks68...I have more understanding about low blood sugar after reading this and I think it helps us to help those with hypoglycemia...nice hub that deserves an UP, cheers!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      OMG Kelley - I have never used the glucagon, but probably because my husband is too scared. He just calls 911. Also, I have not lost consciousness, but I have been so belligerent in refusing to take anything that he's had to call the medics. Pretty scary, indeed!

      Also - I want to include a new capsule in this hub with related links. There is an HP bug, however, that is preventing me from doing so right now. I love your hubs on diabetes, diet, etc., too! All the best, Steph

    • profile image

      kelleyward 

      6 years ago

      Fantastic hub Steph! I've had a lot of low blood sugars I think 30 mg/dl was the lowest reading besides the LOW reading on the monitor. Usually my low blood sugars were during pregnancy. My husband had to give me glucagon IM with my last pregnancy. He was scared and said he ended up having to stick the needle in two times because he was shaking. It worked though I was fine but it's still so scary. Voted up and shared. Kelley

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks ignugent - your sister-in-law did the right thing. Just finding some immediate source of sugar is necessary to help someone having low blood sugar/hypoglycemia. Appreciate the comment/vote! Best, Steph

    • profile image

      ignugent17 

      6 years ago

      One day my mother-in-law run out of candy bars in her purse and my sister-in-law went around to ask for some candy bars or anything sweet to eat. I did not understand why she is doing that and then she was able to gather a handful of candy bars and toffees. It really helps my mother-in-law after eating some. Thank you for this useful hub especially helping another person with hypoglycemia. voted up.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Bill - I feel like I cannot write too many hubs on diabetes and blood sugar issues! Appreciate the comment. All the best, Steph

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting and useful; well-researched as all of your hubs always are. Great job Steph!

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