Keeping blood sugar (glucose) levels from rising too high is the main goal of diabetes care. But glucose levels that drop too low, a condition called hypoglycemia, can be a problem, too.
Luckily, the condition is fairly easy to treat if caught early. It’s important for people with diabetes to get special training to recognize hypoglycemia as soon as the symptoms begin, or whenever too low blood glucose levels are measured. Frequent monitoring is also very important.
Those most at risk include people with type 1 diabetes and those with type 2 diabetes who are treated with insulin and oral medications that stimulate insulin secretion. When very tight glucose control is the goal of treatment, as it often is, hypoglycemia is particularly likely. This is especially true early in the course of therapy.
Hypoglycemia essentially doesn’t occur in patients with type 2 diabetes using only dietary control.
With hypoglycemia, there is not enough glucose in the blood to provide the body with energy. Several things can lead to this state:
• Not eating enough carbohydrates, the body’s main source of glucose
• Exercising an unusual amount
• Taking the wrong doses of medications or insulin, or timing them incorrectly
• Drinking alcohol
It is often more than one of these factors that interact to trigger an episode. Generally, hypoglycemia is diagnosed if blood glucose levels are less than 60 mg/dL and symptoms are present. If someone with diabetes has a glucose reading lower than 60 mg/dL, he or she should quickly eat or drink a high-carbohydrate, glucose-boosting snack.
If someone with diabetes misses the early symptoms of low blood sugar, he or she could pass out. This is one reason that wearing a diabetes bracelet or medical ID at all times is essential. If the person is unconscious, he or she can receive an immediate injection with a liquid called glucagon to boost blood sugar levels. Ask your diabetes care team if it’s a good idea to keep some glucagon at home or at work in case of emergencies.