How Long Does A Hypoglycemic Episode Last
The duration of hypoglycemic episodes varies depending on the cause of the event.
- If the hypoglycemic attack is triggered by overdoing your exercise routine, skipping a meal, or taking too much short-acting insulin, the condition usually improves within minutes by eating or drinking a food or beverage that contains sugar, like a piece of hard candy or orange juice.
- Hypoglycemia caused by sulfonylurea or long-acting insulin may take longer to resolve, but usually goes away in one to two days.
People with diabetes remain at risk for episodes of hypoglycemia throughout life because they need medications that lower blood sugar. The one exception is individuals with type 2 diabetes who manage their condition with lifestyle changes or blood sugar normalizing medicationssuch as metforminalone. This group tends to have higher blood sugar levels .
Treating Low Blood Sugar
You are at risk of having a low blood sugar reaction if you:
- Skip or delay a meal or snack
- Take too much insulin or eat too few carbohydrates
- Drink alcohol, especially without eating carbohydrates
Check your blood sugar if you have any of these symptoms:
- Weakness and/or fatigue
If your blood sugar is less than 70 milligrams per deciliter :
- Eat 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrate
- Wait 15 minutes and then recheck your blood sugar
- If your blood sugar is still less than 100 mg/dl, take another 15 grams of carbohydrate and retest your blood sugar in another 15 minutes. Repeat if necessary.
Important: If you have frequent low blood sugars speak to your doctor. You may need changes in your medication and/or meal plan.
Treating Severely Low Blood Sugar
Blood sugar below 55 mg/dL is considered severely low. You wont be able to treat it using the 15-15 rule. You also may not be able to check your own blood sugar or treat it by yourself, depending on your symptoms. Make sure your family members, friends, and caregivers know your signs of low blood sugar so they can help treat it if needed.
Injectable glucagon is the best way to treat severely low blood sugar. A glucagon kit is available by prescription. Speak with your doctor to see if you should have a kit. Be sure to learn how and when to use it. Let family members and others close to you know where you keep the glucagon kit and make sure theyve been trained in how to use it too.
Its important to contact a doctor for emergency medical treatment immediately after receiving a glucagon injection. If a person faints due to severely low blood sugar, theyll usually wake up within 15 minutes after a glucagon injection. If they dont wake up within 15 minutes after the injection, they should receive one more dose. When the person is awake and able to swallow:
- Feed the person a fast-acting source of sugar .
- Then, have them eat a long-acting source of sugar .
Its also important that friends, family, co-workers, teachers, coaches, and other people you may be around often know how to test your blood sugar and treat severely low blood sugar before it happens.
If any of the following happens, your friend, relative, or helper should call 911:
How To Treat Low Blood Sugar
If you think you have low blood sugar, be sure to check it.
Keeping your blood sugar levels on target as much as possible can help prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems. While this is important, closely managing your blood sugar levels also increases your chance for low blood sugar . Blood sugar below 70 mg/dL is considered low. If you think you have low blood sugar, check it. If you arent able to check it, go ahead and treat it.
Untreated low blood sugar can be dangerous, so its important to know what to do about it and to treat it immediately.
Slurred Speech And Clumsiness
Your sugar-starved brain may change the way you sound. Slurred speech is a common symptom associated with blood sugar levels that drop below 40 mg/dL, according to University of Michigan Health Systems. Combined with clumsiness another sign of low blood sugar you may seem as though you’ve had a few too many cocktails, even if you haven’t touched a drop, according to the National Health Service.
For more on managing low blood sugar, check out Diabetes Daily’s article “How to Treat Lows Without Sabotaging Your Diet!“
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When It’s Time To Call A Doctor
If any of the symptoms mentioned have begun to impact your life, such as fatigue so severe you can’t stay awake through the day, it’s a good idea to consult your physician. Dr. Fruge warns that “unstable blood sugar levels could put you at higher risk of heart disease and stroke and it is a red flag for serious health issues” — so blood sugar issues should be taken seriously.
You should also see a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia and haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes or any other underlying condition.
If you do have diabetes and your hypoglycemia isn’t responding to the treatments described above, that’s another good cue to call your health care provider.
If testing reveals you have Type 1 diabetes, you’ll need to continue to test your blood sugar levels as often as instructed by your physician, take insulin regularly and participate in regular exercise. This may mean you will need a new glucose monitoring system, so ask your doctor what they recommend. If you’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you’ll most likely need to do the same as for Type 1, as well as working with health care professionals to make lifestyle changes such as improving nutrition and planning workouts. Medication may be necessary as well.
Healthy eating, regular exercise and other lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms and possibly even reverse prediabetes.
Find Other Ways To Cope With Stress
Discovering another way to deal with negative emotions is often the first step toward overcoming emotional eating. This could mean writing in a journal, reading a book, or finding a few minutes to otherwise relax and decompress from the day.
It takes time to shift your mindset from reaching for food to engaging in other forms of stress relief, so experiment with a variety of activities to find what works for you.
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Nighttime Low Blood Sugar
While low blood sugar can happen at any time during the day, some people may experience low blood sugar while they sleep. Reasons this may happen include:
- Having an active day.
- Being physically active close to bedtime.
- Taking too much insulin.
- Drinking alcohol at night.
Eating regular meals and not skipping them can help you avoid nighttime low blood sugar. Eating when you drink alcohol can also help. If you think youre at risk for low blood sugar overnight, have a snack before bed.
You may wake up when you have low blood sugar, but you shouldnt rely on that. A continuous glucose monitor can alert you with an alarm if your blood sugar gets low while youre sleeping.
Tips To Maintain Glucose Levels To Avoid An Attack
A normal blood sugar level for an adult is between 70 and 130 mg/dL before a meal and less than 100 mg/dL when fasting. After a meal, a normal blood sugar level rises to below 180 mg/dL. To avoid hypoglycemia, ones blood sugar must be above 70 mg/dL, but not above 180 mg/dL at any point as this may lead to hyperglycemia.
The body does not produce an adequate amount of insulin in those with type 1 diabetes, so the body is unable to tightly regulate blood sugar.
People with diabetes should always have ready access to emergency supplies for treating unexpected episodes of hypoglycemia. These supplies may include:
- Sugar paste in a tube
- Non-diet soda
- Glucagon injection kit
A glucagon injection is mainly used in severe cases of hypoglycemia. It is imperative that a knowledgeable family member or friend learn how to use the glucagon injection kit so that they can use it in the case of an emergency, like when a person is unconscious and cannot take sugar by mouth. For diabetic children, emergency supplies can be kept in the school nurses office.
Knowing the triggers that precipitate your hypoglycemic attacks may be key to preventing an attack, but regulating your blood sugars throughout the day can help mitigate chronic deterioration of your health.
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How To Help Others Help You
Knowing the signs of low blood sugar, having an action plan, and being prepared with your glucose meter and glucose tablets are vital, but sometimes you might need to rely on other people to help when youre blood sugar drops too low. Take these additional steps so youre prepared and they are, too:
Teach your loved ones. If youre unable to help yourself, friends, family, or colleagues may need to treat you with an injection of glucagon, a hormone that tells your liver to release stored glucose, the American Diabetes Association says. For this reason, its a good idea to teach those close to you what to do. If they dont know how to give you the injection or if glucagon isnt available, they must call 911 and get you the help you need, Evans says. Low blood sugar thats sustained for a prolonged time can lead to irreversible brain damage, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Wear an ID bracelet. Evan suggests that everyone with diabetes should get a tattoo or wear a medical ID bracelet. The bracelet should say diabetes and whether youre on insulin or take other medications, the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston recommends.
Talk to your doctor about your low blood sugar risk. If you have frequent bouts of hypoglycemia, be sure to talk with your doctor. The solution may be as simple as changing how much or the kind of diabetes medicine you take. However, never make any changes to your medication regimen without your doctors approval.
What To Do If You Have Symptoms
Very low blood sugar is a medical emergency. If someone you know has diabetes and theyre experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, have them eat or drink 15 grams of easily digestible carbohydrates, such as:
- half a cup of juice or regular soda
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 4 or 5 saltine crackers
- 3 or 4 pieces of hard candy or glucose tablets
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
If someone is having a severe reaction, such as unconsciousness, its important to administer a medication called glucagon and contact emergency services immediately.
People who are at risk for low blood sugar should talk with their doctor about getting a prescription for glucagon. You should never give an unconscious person anything by mouth, as it could cause them to choke.
Low blood sugar can occur for a number of reasons. Its usually a side effect of diabetes treatment.
Severe Low Blood Sugar
As your low blood sugar gets worse, you may experience more serious symptoms, including:
- Feeling weak.
- Having difficulty walking or seeing clearly.
- Acting strange or feeling confused.
- Having seizures.
Severe low blood sugar is below 54 mg/dL. Blood sugar this low may make you faint . Often, youll need someone to help you treat severe low blood sugar.
People with diabetes may experience low blood sugar as often as once or twice a week, even when managing their blood sugar closely. Knowing how to identify and treat it is important for your health. Learn how to treat low blood sugar.
When You Have Low Blood Sugar
First, eat or drink 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as:
- Three to four glucose tablets
- One tube of glucose gel
- Four to six pieces of hard candy
- 1/2 cup fruit juice
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1/2 cup soft drink
- 1 tablespoon honey
Fifteen minutes after you’ve eaten a food with sugar in it, check your blood sugar again. If your blood sugar is still less than 70 mg/dL, eat another serving of one of the foods listed above. Repeat these steps until your sugar becomes normal.
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How To Treat Someone Whos Having A Seizure Or Fit
Follow these steps if someone has a seizure or fit caused by a low blood sugar level:
Tell your diabetes care team if you ever have a severe hypo that caused you to have a seizure or fit.
How Are Low Blood Sugar Levels Treated
Your diabetes health care team will give you guidelines for treating low blood sugar levels, depending on your symptoms. If you can, try to test your blood sugar levels to make sure that your symptoms are because of hypoglycemia. If you can’t test blood sugar immediately, don’t delay in treating your symptoms you can always check your blood sugar after you’ve taken steps to get your blood sugar back up into the normal range.
When blood sugar levels are low, the goal is to get them back up quickly. To do that, you should take in sugar or sugary foods, which raise the blood sugar level quickly. Your health care team might suggest that you:
- Eat, drink, or take something that contains sugar that can get into the blood quickly. Your doctor may tell you to have really sugary foods or drinks or might give you glucose tablets or gel to take all of these can help to raise your blood sugar level fast, which is what you need to do when it’s low.
- Wait about 10 minutes to let the sugar work.
- Recheck your blood sugar level with a glucose meter to see if blood sugar levels are back to normal.
- Get a glucagon shot , if your symptoms are severe or get worse after you eat, drink, or take glucose.
Sometimes, blood sugar levels can get so low that you may not be awake enough to eat or drink something to get them back up. When this happens, you may need a glucagon shot.
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Low Blood Glucose During Sleep
Your blood glucose level can drop while you sleep and stay low for several hours, causing serious problems.7 Symptoms of low blood glucose while you sleep can include
- crying out or having nightmares
- sweating enough to make your pajamas or sheets damp
- feeling tired, irritable, or confused after waking up
Although you may not wake up or notice any symptoms, low blood glucose can interfere with your sleep, which may affect your quality of life, mood, and ability to work. Having low blood glucose during sleep can also make you less likely to notice and respond to symptoms of low blood glucose during the day.
When To Call The Doctor
If signs of low blood sugar do not improve after you have eaten a snack that contains sugar, have someone drive you to the emergency room or call your local emergency number . DO NOT drive when your blood sugar is low.
Get medical help right away for a person with low blood sugar if the person is not alert or cannot be woken up.
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Alcohol And Hypoglycemic Attacks
Drinking alcohol has been shown to trigger hypoglycemic attacks even in individuals with diabetes who have taken their insulin hours before. People with diabetes should be very aware of this possible problem if they drink.
If you are at risk of hypoglycemic episodes, you can avoid delays in treating attacks by closely monitoring your symptoms and sharing this knowledge with friends and family members. Not only can they help you if you are feeling ill, but they can also remind you to engage in health-positive behaviors when you fall off the wagon or forget. The risk for hypoglycemia is lower if you:
- Eat at regular times during the day
- Never skip meals
- Maintain a consistent exercise level
In rare circumstances, a doctor may prescribe a glucagon emergency kit for non-diabetic people who have a history of becoming disoriented or losing consciousness from hypoglycemia.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, there are ways to prevent hypoglycemia:
An increasing body of evidence suggests that hypoglycemia is harmful to people with diabetes both immediately and over time, as it may have negative impacts on the heart and blood vessels.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia may be vague or mimic other conditions, so you may be unaware of its harmful effects until its too late, underscoring the importance of regulating ones glucose levels even if you are not feeling terribly sick.
Complications From Spells Of Hypoglycemia
Mildly low blood sugar levels are somewhat common for people with diabetes however, severely low blood sugar levels can be life threatening. They may lead to seizures and nervous system damage if left untreated long enough. Immediate treatment is critical.
Its important to learn to recognize your symptoms and treat them fast. For people at risk for low blood sugar, having a glucagon kit a medication that raises blood sugar levels is important. Talk with your doctor for more information.
You may also want to talk with friends, family members, exercise partners, and co-workers about how to care for you if your blood sugar drops too low.
Its important for them to learn to recognize low blood sugar symptoms and know how to use the glucagon kit, as well as understand the importance of calling 911 if you lose consciousness.
Wearing a medical identification bracelet is a good idea. It can help emergency responders care for you properly if you need emergency attention.
Treat low blood sugar as soon as possible. Avoid driving if you are experiencing low blood sugar, as it can increase your risk for having an accident.
There are several ways that you can prevent low blood sugar.
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