For diabetics, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) occurs when there's too much insulin and not enough sugar in the blood. Several factors are responsible for hypoglycemia including taking too much insulin or other diabetes medications, skipping a meal, or exercising harder than usual. Paying attention to the warning signals can help you treat low blood sugar promptly. Unattended hypoglycemia can cause seizures, loss of consciousness and death in rare cases. It’s important to educate your family members and friends about what symptoms to look for and what to do in case you're not able to treat the condition yourself.
Common signs of hypoglycemia
Initial signs and symptoms of diabetic hypoglycemia include:
- Irritability or moodiness
- Anxiety or nervousness
Symptoms during the night:
- Damp sheets or wet clothes due to perspiration
- Tiredness, irritability or confusion upon waking
Severe symptoms (when hypoglycemia goes untreated) include:
Symptoms depend on person to person and from time to time, so it's important to keep a tab on your blood sugar levels
regularly and track how you are feeling when your blood sugar is low. Often people don’t recognize early symptoms due to lack of proper education on hypoglycemia.
Factors contributing to hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is most common among insulin takers but can also occur in people who are on certain oral diabetes medications. Common causes of diabetic hypoglycemia include:
- Taking excessive insulin or diabetes medication
- Not eating adequately
- Skipping a meal or snack
- Increased physical activity without eating more or adjusting your medications
- Drinking more than required alcohol
When glucose levels rise, insulin hormone lowers them. If you have diabetes (type 1 or type 2) and require insulin to control blood sugar levels, taking more than required insulin can lead to a drop in blood sugar level resulting in hypoglycemia.
If you think your blood sugar may be dropping, use a blood glucose meter to check the levels. Then eat something rich in sugar or carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar level quickly. Fatty foods such as chocolate don't work as well. Foods that can raise your blood sugar levels quickly include:
- Five to six pieces of hard candy
- Four ounces of fruit juice
- One tablespoon of sugar, jelly or honey
- Three glucose tablets
- A small serving of glucose gel
Some patients experience severe hypoglycemia despite medication adjustments. To counter these circumstances, your doctor may suggest an increase in glucose and prescribe glucagon, a hormone that causes blood glucose to rise.
It is for your good health to regularly monitor glucose levels and carry some sort of diabetes identification so that in an emergency others will know that you have diabetes