How Can You Prevent Hypoglycemia?

Braden G. Barnett, MD

2021 Apr 08

6 min read

Hypoglycemia is a condition that is defined by low blood sugar levels in your blood. If you have diabetes, you need to know what exactly low glucose levels are and how you can deal with them. Low sugar levels can be debilitating, if not downright dangerous. 

How Hypoglycemia Occurs

Diabetes is diagnosed when blood sugar levels are very high. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will have to take insulin externally. If you have type 2 diabetes, your doctor will prescribe medicine to increase your insulin naturally. 

You may be given one or more medications, depending on various factors such as whether your body produces less insulin or your body is not sensitive to the insulin it makes. The overall aim is to regularize blood glucose levels.

Hypoglycemia, or when the blood sugar goes below normal, is a risk for all people with diabetes as their insulin levels are artificially controlled. For most people with diabetes, the blood glucose level lower than 70mg/dL signals the condition, although it can vary.

You can get diabetes-related hypoglycemia if you:

  • Have not eaten enough
  • Have taken too much insulin
  • Have eaten a low carbohydrate meal
  • Drank alcohol without eating for a long time
  • Took medications that interact with the food/insulin and cause low sugar
  • Increased or intensified physical activity like exercise
  • Are sick and eat less
  • Are more sensitive to temperature changes in the weather
  • Are under stress

Often just one factor or a combination leads to hypoglycemia. 

How to Know When Your Sugar Levels Are Low

When you have diabetes, it is important that you balance the insulin available in your body with your food intake. It makes eminent sense that you test your sugar levels regularly. At the same time, you should be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia such as:

  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Sweating
  • Extreme hunger
  • Palpitations
  • Arrhythmia
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in focusing or concentrating
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood changes
  • Skin tingling
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Insomnia or restless sleep

If hypoglycemia is not immediately treated, you can suffer from fainting, seizures, or even go into a coma as sugar levels drop. 

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What Is a Hypoglycemic Attack?

The brain is the center of all thoughts and the management of bodily processes and systems. So when you feel confused, shaky, or experience other symptoms of hypoglycemia, it signifies that the brain is not getting the glucose it needs. Additionally, you may have extra adrenaline in your body because of this, which can cause sweating, anxiety, and rapid heartbeat. 

When you experience one or more symptoms of low blood sugar, you have a hypoglycemic attack or episode. If you have diabetes, it is important that people you generally interact with, such as your family, friends, work colleagues, are aware that you have diabetes. 

If you suddenly have a hypoglycemic attack that causes you to faint or have seizures, they should know what to do. Hypoglycemia can be easily taken care of in the early stages; however, it’s best to go to the emergency room at a hospital in the later stages.

How to Take Care of an Episode of Hypoglycemia

If you catch hypoglycemia early enough, you can take care of yourself. If possible, check your blood sugar level first, but you can still take steps to get over the episode if you don’t have the monitor. You should:

  • Have a half cup of any sweet fruit juice or beverage with sugar
  • Take 3–4 glucose tablets (you should always carry these with you)
  • Take instant glucose gel, 1 tube 
  • Have some fresh or dried fruit
  • Snack on a granola bar
  • Have some pretzels or cookies

You should be getting 15–20g of carbohydrates, and this should be sufficient to stabilize your sugar levels. If you test after 15 minutes and the glucose levels are still low, you should consume more drinks or food till you feel normal. 

If you suffer from frequent hypoglycemic attacks, you should talk to your doctor about getting a glucagon kit. This is an injectable form of glucagon for when you are unable to swallow. You and your family should know how to use this in an emergency. 

How You Can Prevent Hypoglycemia 

Whether or not you are prone to lower sugar levels, it’s essential to know how to prevent hypoglycemia. Normally, a person with diabetes attempts to normalize sugar levels through insulin or medicine that increases insulin in the body. The vital word here is “normalize” – you don’t want high sugar levels (hyperglycemia). And you definitely don’t want low blood glucose.

To keep your diabetes at bay and prevent it from its extremes, you should:

  • Monitor your sugar levels regularly.
  • Change medicines or dosage or medicines, if required, under medical advice.
  • Eat food at regular intervals.
  • Ensure that you have carbohydrates.
  • Don’t keep long gaps between meals.
  • Avoid alcohol or restrict its intake as far as possible.
  • Don’t undertake an intensive exercise or weight loss program without consulting a doctor.
  • If you go to any doctor or hospital for an unrelated medical problem, inform them about your diabetes so that necessary precautions are taken and you don’t suffer from hypoglycemia due to wrong medications.
  • Keep glucose tablets and snacks handy for longer gaps between meals.
  • Take your diabetic medications regularly.
  • Be consistent with your meals and medicine intake.
  • Go for regular medical check-ups.

It can be a delicate balance between medicine, food, and activities that keep your sugar levels under control. And you need to ensure that you can maintain the balance so that you don’t get hypoglycemia. 

Key takeaways: 

  • People with diabetes who take medication that can cause hypoglycemia (insulin, sulfonylureas, or glinides) are at constant risk of low blood glucose levels. You need to fine-tune the balance between food, insulin, activity, and medicine. When these are not in sync, your sugar levels can go down.
  • Be knowledgeable about low blood sugar symptoms – shakiness, tremors, weakness, hunger, mental confusion are some of them. If sugar levels go drastically low, you can faint or even go into a diabetic coma. 
  • Keep sweets handy – glucose tablets or fruit juice can help combat symptoms of low blood sugar quickly and effectively if you take them immediately.
  • Manage your diabetes – monitor glucose levels regularly and go to a doctor if you are prone to hypoglycemia. 
Written by

Braden G. Barnett, MD

Dr. Braden G. Barnett is an endocrinologist in Los Angeles, California and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Keck Medical Center of USC and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. He received his medical degree from University of Southern California and has been in practice around 8 years. A skilled professional, Dr. Barnett holds certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine with a special focus on endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. He is also a recipient of several awards and honors.

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