A low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) episode is unpleasant and possibly dangerous. Hypoglycemia is defined as a blood sugar of less than 70 mg/dl. During a low blood sugar episode you may feel shaky, sweaty, anxious, irritable, tired, hungry and/or headachy. If you suffer from hypoglycemic unawareness, you will not feel any symptoms until your blood sugar becomes dangerously low. Hypoglycemia should be treated immediately. If you want to get the heck out of a low blood sugar episode quickly and safely, follow the six tips below.
- Fast acting carbohydrates are the first thing you should use because they help you exit a low blood sugar episode the fastest, about 15-20 minutes. Fast acting carbohydrates are sugary and contain very little or no protein and/or fat. They include things like fruit juice, regular pop, honey, jelly, syrup, gummy bears, glucose tablets and glucose gel. You need about 15 g of such carbohydrates if your blood is 50-69 mg/dl or about 30 g if your blood sugar is below 50 mg/dl.
|Sources of Fast Acting Carbohydrates||Quantities Providing 15 g Carbohydrates|
|Fruit juice, regular pop||4 oz (half cup)|
|Honey, jelly, syrup||1 tablespoon|
|Gummy bears||9 gummies|
|Glucose gel||1 tube|
- Never fall into the trap of eating until you feel better. Remember, it takes about 15 minutes for even a fast carbohydrate to digest and release the sugar into the blood. If you keep eating for 15 minutes, your blood sugar will swing from low to high, creating a whole new problem.
- Never start your treatment with foods high in fat even if they are sugary like cookies and ice cream. These foods take a long time to digest and release their sugar into the blood, keeping your blood sugar low for a long time during which your blood sugar may continue to go down to more dangerous levels and perhaps to the point of passing out.
- Never use foods like peanut butter or cheese. These foods have fats and proteins, but very little or no carbohydrates. They are useless in the treatment of low blood sugar.
- Check your blood sugar 15-20 minutes after treatment. If your blood sugar is still below 70 mg/dl, repeat the treatment as described in 1. If your blood sugar is above 70 mg/dl, eat about 15-20g of slower acting carbohydrates like 1 slice of bread, 6 saltine crackers, or 1 granola bar. The sugar released from the fast acting carbohydrates will last only about 1 hour, so you will need the slower acting carbohydrates to release sugar into your blood over a longer period of time. You may add some low fat, protein rich foods like lite cheese or turkey to the slower acting carbohydrates.
- If you are too incoherent to swallow or you pass out, you will need somebody to assemble a glucagon shot according to package instructions, turn you to your side (glucagon may make you vomit) and give you a shot in the back of the arm or the buttocks. Once you are coherent enough, follow the treatment described in 1 then let your doctor know.
By Abir Sami Farhat-Wood, MS, RD, CDE, LD