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What To Know About The Threat Of Hypoglycemia

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed. Balancing the food you eat with exercise and medicine (if prescribed) will help you control your weight and can keep your blood glucose in the healthy range. When blood glucose is not controlled, however, a complication may be hypoglycemia — sometimes referred to as an insulin reaction, or insulin shock. Here’s what you need to know about it.

HYPOGLYCEMIA

Hypoglycemia is a condition characterized by abnormally low blood glucose (blood sugar) levels, usually less than 70 mg/dl. However, it is important to talk to your health care provider about your individual blood glucose targets, and what level is too low for you.

Hypoglycemic symptoms are important clues that you have low blood glucose. Each person’s reaction to hypoglycemia is different, so it’s important that you learn your own signs and symptoms when your blood glucose is low.

The only sure way to know whether you are experiencing hypoglycemia is to check your blood glucose, if possible. If you are experiencing symptoms and you are unable to check your blood glucose for any reason, treat the hypoglycemia. Severe hypoglycemia has the potential to cause accidents, injuries, coma, and death.

 

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS (happen quickly)

Shakiness

Nervousness or anxiety

Sweating, chills and clamminess

Irritability or impatience

Confusion, including delirium

Rapid/fast heartbeat

Lightheadedness or dizziness

Hunger and nausea

Sleepiness

Blurred/impaired vision

Tingling or numbness in the lips or tongue

Headaches

Weakness or fatigue

Anger, stubbornness, or sadness

Lack of coordination

Nightmares or crying out during sleep

Seizures

Unconsciousness

 

TREATING HYPOGLYCEMIA

  1. Consume 15-20 grams of glucoseor simple carbohydrates
  2. Recheck your blood glucose

after 15 minutes

  1. If hypoglycemia continues, repeat.
  2. Once blood glucose returns to normal, eat a small snack if your next planned meal or snack is more than an hour or two away.

 

Here are examples of simple carbohydrates commonly used to achieve the 15-20 gram level:

  • glucose tablets (follow package instructions)
  • gel tube (follow package instructions)
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of juice or regular soda (not diet)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, honey, or corn syrup
  • 8 ounces of nonfat or 1% milk
  • hard candies, jellybeans, or gumdrops

(see package to determine how many to consume)

 

WHEN GLUCAGON IS NEEDED

If left untreated, hypoglycemia may lead to a seizure or unconsciousness (passing out, a coma). In this case, someone else must take over.

Glucagon is a hormone that stimulates your liver to release stored glucose into your bloodstream when your blood glucose levels are too low. Injectable glucagon kits are used as a medication to treat someone with diabetes who has become unconscious from a severe insulin reaction. Glucagon kits are available by prescription. Speak with your health care provider about whether you should buy one, and how and when to use it.

The people you are in frequent contact with (for example, family members, significant others, and coworkers) should also be instructed on how to administer glucagon to treat severe hypoglycemic events. Have them call 911 if they feel they can’t handle the situation — for example, if the hypoglycemic person passes out, does not regain consciousness, or has a seizure, if the care taker does not know how to inject glucagon, or if glucagon is not available.

If glucagon is needed:

  1. Inject glucagon into the individual’s buttock, arm or thigh, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  1. When the individual regains consciousness (usually in 5-15 minutes), they may experience nausea and vomiting.
  1. If you have needed glucagon, let your health care provider know, so they can discuss ways to prevent severe hypoglycemia in the future.

 

Do NOT:

  • Inject insulin (will lower blood glucose even more)
  • Provide food or fluids (individual can choke)
  • Put hands in mouth (individual can choke)

 

HYPOGLYCEMIA UNAWARENESS

Very often, hypoglycemia symptoms occur when blood glucose levels fall below 70 mg/dl. But, many people have blood glucose readings below this level and feel no symptoms. This is called hypoglycemia unawareness. People with hypoglycemia unawareness are also less likely to be awakened from sleep when hypoglycemia occurs at night.

Hypoglycemia unawareness occurs more frequently in those who:

  • Frequently have low blood glucose episodes (which can cause you to stop sensing the early warning signs of hypoglycemia)
  • Have had diabetes for a long time
  • Tightly control their diabetes (which increases your chances of having low blood glucose reactions)

If you think you have hypoglycemia unawareness, speak with your health care provider. He or she may adjust/raise your blood glucose targets to avoid further hypoglycemia and risk of future episodes.

 

OTHER CAUSES OF SYMPTOMS

Some people may start to have symptoms of hypoglycemia when their blood glucose levels are higher than 70 mg/dl. This can happen when blood glucose levels are very high and start to go down quickly. If this is happening, discuss treatment with your health care provider.

 

MEDICAL IDs

Many people with diabetes, particularly those who use insulin, should have a medical ID with them at all times.

In the event of a severe hypoglycemic episode, a car accident, or other emergency, the medical ID can provide critical information about the person’s health status, such as the fact that they have diabetes, whether or not they use insulin, whether they have any allergies, etc. Emergency medical personnel are trained to look for a medical ID when they are caring for someone who can’t speak for themselves.

Medical IDs are usually worn as a bracelet or a necklace. Traditional IDs are etched with basic, key health information about the person, and some IDs now include compact USB drives that can carry a person’s full medical record for use in an emergency.

 

PREVENTING LOW BLOOD GLUCOSE

Your best bet is to practice good diabetes management and learn to detect hypoglycemia so you can treat it early — before it gets worse.

If you are new to type 2 diabetes, you can join the free Living With Type 2 Diabetes program to get help and support during your first year. See more about that program or other aspects of living with diabetes at diabetes.org.


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