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How to Treat Low Blood Sugar in Diabetics

written by: lrohner • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/12/2011

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a very treatable medical condition that most diabetics suffer from occasionally. If you live with or spend time with anyone who is a diabetic, learning how to treat low blood sugar could save their life.

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    Blood Sugar Basics

    The body converts carbohydrates into glucose that passes through the bloodstream. The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin in response to the rise in blood glucose levels. The two work together to feed the brain and provide the rest of the body with energy.

    Diabetics are either unable to produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or their bodies are unable to efficiently process insulin (type 2 diabetes) and must rely on medications, diet and exercise to keep their blood sugar levels in check.

    Type 1 diabetics play a balancing game where they must take daily injections of insulin to counteract the glucose in their bloodstream. To properly dose their insulin injections, they must have an idea of how many carbohydrates they will consume and over what time period.

    Normal blood glucose levels are generally between 70 mg/dl and 120 mg/dl. Taking too little insulin or eating too many carbohydrates may result in blood glucose levels higher than 120 mg/dl, a condition called hyperglycemia. If a diabetic takes too much insulin or does not consume enough carbohydrates, blood glucose levels can drop below 70 mg/dl and a dangerous condition called hypoglycemia is usually the result. If you know how to treat low blood sugar, however, the condition can be reversed very quickly with no adverse medical effects.

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    Causes

    Consuming too few carbohydrates or taking too much insulin are the most common causes of hypoglycemia. Exercise, physical stress, like an injury or long-term illness, and emotion stress can also cause a sharp drop in blood glucose levels.

    Reactive hypoglycemia, also known as alimentary hypoglycemia, is an uncommon form of the condition that usually occurs two to three hours after a meal.

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    Symptoms

    Hypoglycemia is different from many other illnesses in that its symptoms are usually physical, mental and emotional.

    Some diabetics may feel the effects of hypoglycemia right away allowing for quick treatment, while others may not feel it until their blood sugar levels drop dangerously low. Initial symptoms of hypoglycemia usually include dizziness, shakiness, lightheadedness and extreme hunger. If not treated immediately, you may become disoriented, weak, nauseous, suffer from an extreme headache and rapid heartbeat and become flushed.

    Hypoglycemia affects different people in different ways. Some people will feel all of the classic symptoms, while others may feel none. Many diabetics become giddy and silly, while others suffer from anxiety and become irritable and angry.

    As blood sugars continue to decilne without treatment, the diabetic might become unaware of her surroundings, become unconscious and even suffer seizures. If treatment is not administered at this time, death may result.

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    Treatment

    If you recognize and symptoms early on, treatment of hypoglycemia is simple and recovery is usually immediate. Learning how to treat low blood sugar could very well save someone's life.

    The Joslin Diabetes Center recommends consuming:

    • 3 glucose tablets or 4 dextrose tablets
    • 4 oz. of fruit juice
    • 5 to 6 oz, or 1/2 can, regular soda such as Coke or Pepsi
    • 7 to 8 gummy or regular Life Savers
    • 1 Tbsp. of sugar or jelly

    This is one time that diabetics want to ingest simple carbohydrates, like sugar, and avoid complex carbohydrates and protein that slow down the body's absorption of the carbohydrates.

    After conuming one of these foods, rest for 15 minutes and then test your blood sugar levels. If they have not risen about the 70 mg/dl mark, consume another like serving of juice, soda or sugar. If blood sugars have stabilized, follow up by eating some complex carbohydrates with proteins, like a chocolate bar with nuts, if you are not ready to eat a meal in the next hour or so.

    If the diabetic is unconscious or unable to consume food or drink, smear some glucose gel or cake frosting on your finger and swab it on the inside of their cheek. If this has no affect, roll the person onto their side and inject them with the glucagon that most diabetics carry with them. This should revive the diabetic within 10 minutes.

    If none of these treatments work or if blood glucose levels continue to decline despite treatment, call 911 for emergency medical assistance or transport them to a hospital immediately.

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    Sources

    Mayo Clinic: Hypoglycemia

    Joslin Diabetes Center: Is Low Blood Sugar Dangerous?