Blood sugar changes throughout the day are normal. When these changes stay within a healthy range, they usually go unnoticed. But if your blood sugar is too low to fuel your body as it should, you may begin to experience symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia is defined as a glucose level below 70 mg/dL or 3.9 mmol/L, and if left untreated, it can cause serious complications. For people living with diabetes, understanding hypoglycemia and how to prevent it is a vital part of diabetes management.
What Causes Hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia can happen to anyone, but it occurs most commonly in people who take insulin or certain oral medication for diabetes. Knowing what can cause low blood sugar helps you take measures to prevent it.
The following are the most common causes of hypoglycemia:
- Taking too much insulin or certain oral diabetes medication
- Strenuous, unexpected, or unaccounted-for exercise
- Delayed or missed meals
- Meals with minimal carbohydrates
- Alcohol consumption
- Excess insulin production after eating meals high in carbs or sugar
- Recent hypoglycemic event
In addition to diabetes, other health conditions can affect blood glucose levels. You should always consult with your healthcare provider if you experience low blood sugar. They will help you identify the cause and understand how to prevent it from happening in the future.
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia can affect people in multiple ways. Knowing what to look for can help you understand what’s happening and what to do.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include the following:
- Unusual mood changes
- Pale skin
If untreated, more serious symptoms of hypoglycemia can include the following:
- Extreme confusion
- Poor coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred speech
- Mouth numbness
- Blurred or double vision
Symptoms can differ from person to person and episode to episode. Moreover, hypoglycemia doesn’t always result in noticeable symptoms, and some people experience symptoms before their blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL. Speak with your healthcare provider about what your target range should be to prevent hypoglycemia.
How to Prevent Hypoglycemia
There are many ways to help prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low. They include the following:
- Check your blood sugar regularly with an accurate glucose monitor, including before exercise or taking medications that can lower blood glucose levels
- Ensure that you have carbohydrates at each meal
- Plan meals no longer than 4-5 hours apart
- Double-checking medication doses before taking them
- Take your medication on time
- Always eat carbohydrates if you are drinking alcohol
- Know what your blood glucose is before exercise, and treat as appropriate
- Always check your blood glucose before driving
Incorporating these habits into your daily routine can help you manage your blood sugar levels and avoid hypoglycemic episodes.
How to Treat Hypoglycemia
If you experience symptoms associated with hypoglycemia, you should always check your blood sugar. If it’s low, the most commonly recommended way to treat it is the 15-15 rule.
The 15-15 Rule
Once your blood sugar reaches your target range, it’s best to eat another snack in 30-60 minutes to prevent it from dropping again.
Examples of 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates include the following:
- Glucose tablets (follow instructions on the label)
- Glucose gel tube (follow instructions on the label)
- 4 ounces of fruit juice or regular soda
- 1 tablespoon of sugar or 3 sugar packets
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 4-6 pieces of hard candy (not sugar-free)
While the 15-15 rule is a common way to treat hypoglycemia, speak to your healthcare provider to find out if it’s the best strategy for you. If you’re using the rule and your blood sugar levels aren’t rising, seek medical attention to prevent more serious complications.
Make Checking Your Blood Sugar a Priority
For people living with diabetes, monitoring your blood glucose levels regularly is the most important thing you can do to identify hypoglycemia—or prevent it. Your healthcare provider can tell you what your target range should be, how often to check your blood sugar, and what to do if your levels are too low or too high.
The best way to make checking your blood sugar levels a priority is to use a blood glucose monitor that makes frequent testing easy, such as the POGO Automatic® Monitor. POGO Automatic is the first FDA-cleared, one-step automatic blood glucose monitoring system with lancets and test strips built into 10-test cartridges. You simply press a button, and the device does the lancing and blood collection for you, giving you a fast, discreet way to track your blood sugar levels and avoid dangerous fluctuations.
Understanding hypoglycemia and how to prevent it is key to keeping yourself healthy. With the right tools and strategies, prevention can become a simple part of your everyday routine.
Jaclyn Owens is a product director specializing in diabetes management tools. She is committed to using technology to empower people with diabetes and help them take control of their health.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.