Diabetes Basics
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Dear Diabetes: Hypoglycemia

The basics of low blood sugar

Dear Diabetes: What are the basics of low blood sugar?

When blood sugar drops to abnormally low levels, it is called hypoglycemia. A variety of factors, such as exercise, medications and skipping meals can cause hypoglycemia in people with diabetes. Because hypoglycemia is potentially serious, it is important to be able to tell when it is occurring, so blood sugar levels can be brought back into recommended range.

The human body breaks down food into its building blocks, including sugars known as glucose to serve as fuel. With help from the hormone insulin, cells in the body take in the glucose from the blood stream. Extra glucose is stored in the liver and released in between meals. However, in diabetes, this release of stored glucose may become impaired.

In people with diabetes a number of things can trigger an episode of low blood sugar, such as low-dose oral medications and insulin, alcohol, skipped or delayed meals, intense physical activity.

According to the American Diabetes Association (The Association), hypoglycemia is defined as blood sugar levels below 70 milligrams per deciliter. However, you should talk to your health care provider about what blood sugar level is too low for you.

The symptoms of hypoglycemia can vary from person to person, so the only way to know for certain is to test one’s blood sugarSome common symptoms include anxiety, weakness, confusion, shakiness, sweating, feeling tired, hungry or nervous, as well as having nightmares.

Low blood sugar may be treated with food or drink that contains sugar your body can quickly access, such as hard candy, juice or nondiet soda, sugar or honey.

Experts recommend checking blood sugar to confirm a low. If you are low, then you may follow “The Rule of 15.” After eating 15 grams of carbohydrate, they recommend you check again 15 minutes later to see if your blood sugar has increased above 70 mg/dL. If it is still low, this sequence may be repeated.

If left untreated, hypoglycemia may become dangerous and life threatening.

Over the long term, reducing the risk of hypoglycemia means taking into account diabetes medications, the meal plan, daily activity, alcohol use and intensive management of blood sugar, since each may affect the risk for these episodes. If you experience low blood sugar frequently, it is important to talk to your doctor about the possible need to change your treatment plan.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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