When people think of diabetes, they think of alarmingly high blood sugar levels. But what can be more dangerous, are the symptoms of low blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar can kill you on the spot so it is important to know the warnings signs very well.
Symptoms of low blood sugar levels, or hyperglycemia (the technical name) affect type 1 diabetics primarily but can also affect type 2 diabetics who are on medication. Diabetics who are on any form of medication, specially insulin will inevitably come face to face with low blood sugar at some point. The key is the ability to take action quickly to reverse the effects.
What is low blood sugar and what to do I if I have it?
For people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes the symptoms of low blood sugar levels need to be acted on immediately. Often low blood sugar levels is a symptom of over medicating yourself with insulin. The important point to remember here is that low blood sugar levels can kill you instantly on the spot.
Hypoglycemia is considered to be a level where your blood sugar level has dropped below 4mmol/L or 72 mg/dL. People who manage their diabetes through medication such as insulin or Metformin are the only ones at risk of hypoglcemia. This condition does not affect anyone else.
Other reasons for having low blood sugar levels
As mentioned over injecting yourself with insulin is the most common form of hypoglycaemia a diabetic will face. Low blood sugar can also strike after exercising rigorously. This can see you blood sugar levels plummet very quickly. It can also occur after skipping meals or eating less than usual (especially carbohydrates).
You may experience hypoglcemia if you take a hot bath or shower after injecting insulin as blood flow through the blood vessels is increased and may mean that insulin is absorbed into the blood more quickly than usual.
Injecting insulin directly into a muscle eg in the leg instead of into the fatty layer under the skin eg the stomach can increase the chances of hypoglycemia. The risk is magnified even more if you inject into the part of the body above to undertake exercise eg into the leg before running.
Symptoms of low blood sugar levels
There are many and numerous symptoms of hypoglycaemia. I have found that different symptoms affect different people. For example I tend to sweat and get confused about where I am or what I am doing. This is a sign for me to eat some sugar or sugary food or drink immediately. Other symptoms include but are not necessarily limited to –
- Sudden mood swings. This affects a lot of diabetics.
- Increased heart rate
- Blurred vision
- Dizziness or drowsiness
- Tingling skin
- Pale skin
- Nervousness or shakiness
- Troubles concentrating
In extreme cases of very low blood sugar you can lose consciousness or have a seizure or slip into a coma. This may be fatal. Please see my post on diabetic seizure symptoms for additional information on managing low blood sugar levels.
Quite often diabetics grow to have hypoglycemic unawareness. This can happen if you experience low blood sugar symptoms regularly. When you have this condition it can mean that your blood sugar levels can drop to dangerously low levels without you knowing about it. If you find that you are becoming increasingly unaware of an impending hypo then be sure to mention this to your healthcare professional.
How do I get my blood sugar levels up?
As I have mentioned, when your blood sugar levels fall you need to take action to raise them immediately. You do this by eating sugar or sugary food and or drink. Sugar or sugary foods should hit the blood very quickly and start to raise your blood sugar levels again. The problem arises when you do not have access to any sugar or sugary foods. You should carry emergency sweets with you at home and at work and anywhere else you spend time eg your car. Also bear in mind that once you eat sugary foods to reverse symptoms of low blood sugar levels your blood sugar may rebound to levels that are too high. It is important to test and retest your blood glucose before and after hypoglcemia.
Tips to avoid low blood sugar
You can stay one step ahead of the game if you are aware of the factors that lead to low blood sugar levels. Unfortunately it does not matter how well you manage your condition, low blood sugar levels are inevitable as there are many variables including how well your body is absorbing insulin at any given time. Some other tips to avoid low blood sugar levels include –
- Don’t skip any meals
- Try to calculate the amount of insulin you require. Systems such as carb counting or diabetes exchange systems may be the best way to calculate the insulin required.
- Watch the amount of exercise you undertake and understand the lasting affects it has on blood sugar levels.
- Having a hot bath or shower after an insulin shot can see insulin absorbed in the body extremely quickly. Be mindful of this.
- Check your blood sugar levels regularly
- Be aware of affects certain things have on blood sugar levels. Eg drugs and alcohol. Both can impair your ability to detect an oncoming hypo. Alcohol actually lowers blood sugar levels so be mindful of this and be sure to eat snacks if you are out drinking.
Please see my blog post on normal blood sugar levels here.
What do you do if you find a diabetic that is unconscious?
If you find a diabetic who has lost consciousness and or is unable to swallow you need to call emergency services immediately. You should not give them any food or drink as they may choke. You need to place them on their side and wait until an ambulance arrives. If it is possible to give the diabetic a shot of glucogen this should be done ASAP.
Diabetes is a dangerous disease. There are many long term complications associated with having the disease. Diabetes medication is equally as dangerous and should be measured and monitored very, very closely. There have been many instances of diabetics dying due to accidentally over medicating. Be mindful of the symptoms of low blood sugar levels as they may save your life. If you experience any symptoms it is important to act fast. Eat anything sugary you can get your hands on. Jelly beans or soda pop is ideal.
Please get in touch below to add any other symptoms of low blood sugar levels that you may have or have heard of.