Hypoglycemia can be a very serious condition, with extreme cases causing seizures, coma, and even death. It occurs when blood sugar levels drop too low and is most often experienced by people with diabetes.
As you learn about diabetes management, being well-versed in low blood sugar symptoms will enable you to detect the signs of impending hypoglycemia and act quickly to head it off or minimize its impact.
Diabetes Type and Hypoglycemia Risk
The rate of hypoglycemia risk varies between the three different types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes patients experience hypoglycemia most often, as their diabetes management often requires a lot of attention and careful planning. The average type 1 diabetes patient attempting aggressive control experiences low blood sugar symptoms at least twice a week and a full-blown case of hypoglycemia requiring medical attention once a year. Between 2 and 4 percent of people with type 1 diabetes die due to hypoglycemia.
- Type 2 diabetes patients experience hypoglycemia much less frequently than type 1 diabetes patients. The rate of hypoglycemia in type 2 diabetes patients taking insulin is about one-third that of type 1 diabetics. However, the frequency with which you experience hypoglycemia increases as diabetes becomes more advanced.
- Gestational diabetes patients very rarely experience hypoglycemia, even if they must take insulin during their pregnancy. However, about a quarter of newborn babies delivered by mothers with gestational diabetes are likely to have neonatal hypoglycemia and need treatment.
Be Aware of Low Blood Sugar Symptoms
The warning signs of hypoglycemia may vary from person to person, but it's important to know about and be alert to all of them. They include:
- Feeling very shaky or trembling
- Feeling weak or dizzy
- Sweating or feeling cold and clammy
- Experiencing extreme hunger pangs
- Having trouble keeping your balance or staggering when you walk
- Having pale or gray skin
- Experiencing a bad headache
- Becoming confused and unable to think or concentrate
- Feeling uncharacteristically moody or cranky
- Having a tingling sensation around your mouth
- Having double vision or vision that has grown blurry
- Experiencing a quickening heartbeat
Some people will experience an episode of hypoglycemia in their sleep. Signs of nocturnal hypoglycemia include:
- Waking up with your pajamas or sheets soaked with sweat
- Feeling cranky, irritable, tired, or confused after waking up
- Having nightmares or crying out in your sleep
People with extreme hypoglycemia may pass out or experience seizures as a result of low blood sugar. They are in danger of lapsing into a coma and could die if not treated.
What Should You Do?
If you have diabetes and think you are experiencing hypoglycemia, you should test your blood sugar levels as soon as possible using a glucose meter. Levels below 70 mg/dL will require immediate treatment.
The best way to treat hypoglycemia is to eat some form of sugar. The National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association recommend you eat between 15 to 20 grams of sugars or carbohydrates. Some quick-acting sources of carbs include:
- Fruit juice, 1/2 cup
- Regular sugary soda, 1/2 cup
- Milk, 1 cup
- Hard candy, 5 or 6 pieces
- Saltine crackers, 4 or 5
- Raisins, 2 tablespoons
- Sugar or honey, 1 tablespoon
- Glucose tablets, 3 or 4
- Glucose gel, 1 serving
If you passed out or are experiencing seizures, you should not try to treat yourself or have loved ones treat you. You need to see your doctor or call 911 to get to an emergency room for treatment.
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