By Dr Joe
How do you treat low blood sugar at a time when you are probably vulnerable and may not be in a position to make the right decisions for yourself.
All it takes is a little preparation in advance and you won’t be caught napping when your blood sugar drops.
Here is what I talk about on the page:
How do you treat low blood sugar
Treat low blood sugar infographic
Treat low blood sugar when the person is unconscious or drowsy
Treat an individual with low blood sugar who is having a seizure
How to prevent low blood sugar
How do you know your blood sugar is low
Before you get to grips with how to treat low blood sugar, it’s important you recognise the symptoms of low blood sugar.
Fortunately, blood sugar drops gradually unless when it is caused by overzealous self-management of diabetes in diabetics.
The adrenergic phase of low blood sugar should be seen as a warning phase. This requires action on your part to rescue the situation before it gets worse.
Low blood sugar symptoms of the adrenergic phase refer to feelings of dizziness, fast heartbeat, shaking of hands and feet, anxiety, blurred or double vision, hunger pangs, sweating. Some people will feel frightened or unnecessarily excitable.
These symptoms mentioned above represent the early phase of low blood sugar which can be remedied very quickly.
How do you treat low blood sugar?
Early intervention to get rid of the low blood sugar is essential with simple steps like:
**Drink a sugary juice straightaway. This is one occasion when you are allowed refined carbohydrates either in the form of a drink or solid sweetie.
So, juice like an orange juice or an apple juice are good to treat low blood sugar within minutes.
The American Diabetic Association recommends consuming 15-20 gm of simple carbohydrate or glucose.
This NHS resource recommends a small glass of fruit juice, a handful of sweets and 4 – 5 dextrose tablets.
**It is important that you check your blood sugar 10 – 15 minutes later after the initial drink or sweets to see if your blood glucose has gone up.
**You will need to repeat the treatment again. Have another drink or another handful of sweets or candies, if your blood glucose is still below 4 mmol/l (72 mg/dl). Then repeat your blood glucose test again after another 15 minutes.
**After that initial step, it’s nice to have either a proper meal that provides a steady release of glucose (complex carb) along with protein and fats or at the very least have a sandwich or some buttered toast.
> It is thought that 15 gm of carbohydrate will raise your blood glucose by 3 mmol/l (54 mg/dl).
You can treat symptoms of low blood sugar by eating any of the following foods below. These will supply you with at least 15 grams of carbohydrate. 15 grams of carbohydrate is expected to correct your low blood sugar within minutes of consumption.
1 tablespoon of sugar dissolved in water
7 jelly beans
1 tablespoon of pure honey
1 tablespoon of jam or even marmalade
13 gummy bears
4 or 5 dextrose tablets
1 tube of glucose gel
Half an apple
1 small banana
2 circular slices of pineapple
2 tablespoons of raisins
A small glass of orange juice
A small glass of apple juice
A small glass of cranberry juice
A small glass of non-diet fizzy drink – Coca cola, Pepsi, Sprite
A small glass of prune juice
A small glass of pineapple juice
A glass of milk
A small glass of pomegranate juice
A small glass of prune juice
A small glass of mango juice
In the absence of those food items listed above, you can use foods like chocolate, crackers, biscuits, cookies, white bread and ice cream to treat low blood sugar. The only problem is that these foods are slow to act. They do correct low blood sugar but do not do so rapidly enough to be considered first choice.
How to treat low blood sugar when the person is unconscious or drowsy
Drowsiness and being unconscious are much more severe symptoms of low blood sugar. These require a deeper professional input but if you are alone with the individual, you need to do the following.
Placing the affected individual in recovery position is imperative. What’s important is not give the individual any of food items listed above until they have regained consciousness. If you do that, there is the risk of aspiration (choking) as their gagging reflex is impaired when unconscious.
What you must do though, is call the emergency services immediately (999 in the UK, 911 in the US). Professional help is needed at this point.
However, if the affected individual has glucagon injection on him/her, then administer the glucagon injection straightaway.
Usually most people will respond to glucagon injection within minutes.
There’s a good chance the emergency services would have arrived by now. But if they haven’t and the individual has woken up, give them any of the food items listed above like a small glass of orange juice, apple juice, dextrose tablets, or a tube of glucose gel.
A slow-release complex carbohydrate food is the next thing to feed the person with. This will give a sustained gradual release of glucose into the circulation and should prevent a relapse into hypoglycemia.
How do you treat an individual with low blood sugar who is having a seizure?
The treatment is just as you will in the case of someone who is unconscious from low blood sugar. Do exactly as I have described above but you will need to wait until the seizures have stopped before administering the glucagon.
Fits or seizures are usually self-limiting and would last only a couple of minutes. Something else you need to do is remove any potential objects that can cause physical harm from around the person when they are having a seizure.
How to prevent low blood sugar
You will find these low blood sugar prevention tips useful if you have had one or two episodes of hypoglycemia or if you are worried about low blood sugar attacks.
Preventing low blood sugar is quite easy. All it requires is a little planning ahead and forward thinking.
Most diabetics especially those on insulin will have one episode of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) once or twice in their diabetic life.
This is most likely to happen when you have just been recently diagnosed and you are coming to grips with learning diabetic self-management. As you become more proficient in your diabetic self-management, episodes of hypoglycemia should be fairly rare.
Where you start having frequent hypoglycemic episodes, then something is not right and you must discuss this issue with your medical team.
However, taking the steps below will prevent you from having frequent low blood sugar attacks.
- It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your blood glucose levels quite often by checking it with your glucometer at home or office.
2. Understand the symptoms of low blood sugar. Know them inside out. This is important because you can take steps to prevent low sugar as soon as you think you are about to have one.
3. If you are on insulin or taking medications that promote the secretion of insulin from the pancreas, you should endeavour not to skip meals because your blood glucose will plummet if you do.
> You should be aware that insulin will do its job of clearing glucose from the blood whether you eat or not. So, no starvation periods allowed.
4. As a diabetic, a golden rule is to always have some food item that can quickly raise blood sugar with you all the time. See list above. A sweet drink, a beverage or a handful of sweets or candies are a nice fashion accessory to have on you. Maybe a handful of raisins could be a nice substitute to have if you looking to prevent low blood sugar.
5. Get a glucagon injection pack and take it with you wherever you go. It can be a life saver when you have a severe attack. People who suffer from hypoglycemic unawareness in particular will benefit from this step.
Administering glucagon is easy. Simply mix the powder with the solution in the syringe and give the shot into a muscle.
6. If you are going to do any vigorous exercise, you will need to do one of two things. Either reduce the dose of your regular insulin or have a pre-exercise snack before jumping on the treadmill, cross trainer, exercise bike or lifting those weights.
7. Avoid binge drinking on alcohol. It’s amazing what effect alcohol drunk very quickly can have on your blood sugar levels. You may want to drink slowly over a longer period.
8. You may also want to have a meal before you embark on your drinking escapade. Food will help slow the absorption of alcohol whilst preventing you from drinking lots as your stomach can only take so much.
9. For people who are prone to having hypoglycemic attacks when they fall asleep at night, a pre-bedtime snack like a toast with butter will keep your blood glucose at normal levels whilst asleep.
10. All diabetics taking must carry an ID badge that identifies them as a diabetic. This is useful and it informs people around you when they notice something is wrong. Not a bad idea to let your colleagues in your workplace know about your condition and give them instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.
How do you know your blood sugar is low?
The symptoms of hypoglycemia is how you know your blood sugar is low.
Knowing the symptoms of low blood sugar and recognising them as soon as you suspect you are developing hypoglycemia is the best way to prevent low blood sugar.
This is because you will act to prevent a full-blown attack of hypoglycemia as soon as you know.
If you are unsure whether your blood sugar is low or not, a simple blood glucose test done on the spot will reveal where you stand. If you are diabetic you must have a glucometer at home.
Practically, every type 1 diabetic has a blood glucose monitoring device at home, I would like to think. I believe the same should apply to all type 2 diabetics as well.
For me one way of self-managing your type 2 diabetes and probably reversing it is to do what I preach about in eating to your meter. Probably one of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to reverse type 2 diabetes.
Hopefully you now know how to treat low blood sugar and get rid of low blood sugar without fuss. It’s simple strategies that go a long way in preventing an attack that potentially can cause a lot of harm.
How do you deal with low blood sugar
Here’s a summary of how to treat low blood sugar. You deal with the event by taking the following steps:
- Prepare for possible low blood sugar event in advance.
- Know what the early warning phase symptoms are.
- Act early on the warning phase symptoms.
- Drink a sugary drink, juice straightaway or eat a sweetie.
- Consume 15 gm of simple carbohydrate or glucose.
- Check blood sugar 15 minutes later.
- Have another drink or sweets, if blood sugar still below 4 mmol/l (72 mg/dl).
- Repeat blood sugar 15 minutes later.
- If winning, eat follow-up complex carb.
- If not winning, call emergency services.
Suggested further reading:
How To Supercharge Your Life and Restore Glowing Good Health