HOW DO YOU TREAT HYPOGLYCEMIA?
Treating hypoglycemia is usually a matter of using food and or drinks to raise sugar levels. This method is a direct way to treat an episode with fast results, but it’s not a management solution. When underlying conditions cause hypoglycemia, it’s necessary to treat those illnesses directly in order to prevent low blood sugar.
For people who experience fasting hypoglycemia, low blood sugar from exercise, reactive hypoglycemia and several other illnesses, simply eating regular snacks and meals throughout the day and being intentional about the types of foods that are eaten should keep sugar levels balanced. This is true for diabetics as well, but medications may also be necessary.
Let’s take a look at the instructions advised for treating hypoglycemia.
INITIAL TREATMENT FOR LOW BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVELS
If you are experiencing symptoms, start by checking your blood glucose level. If you are below 70 mg/dl (3.9 mmol/L), a quick solution to getting your blood sugar back up is to;
Eat or drink about 15 grams of a fast-acting or simple carbohydrate—something high in sugar.1 Sugary foods and drinks are typically made with white refined sugars, which means that the sugar will go into the bloodstream faster. Drinking juice or a soft drink, (not diet), or eating candy, glucose tablets, gel, sugar or honey should raise your blood sugar levels pretty fast.
Foods that have fat or protein in them do not work well to quickly increase glucose levels. Fat and protein can slow down the digestion process and the body’s ability to absorb sugar, so blood sugar levels will rise slower.1
Examples of serving sizes for one carbohydrate choice of 15 grams;
- 3 Glucose tablets or 4 Dextrose tablets
- One tube of glucose gel
- ½ cup (4 oz) of fruit juice (not low-calorie or reduced sugar)
- 5–6 oz (about ½ can) of regular soda (not low-calorie or reduced sugar)
- 7–8 gummy or regular LifeSavers
- 1 tablespoon of sugar, honey, jelly or corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons of raisins2,3
After about 15 minutes of treatment, recheck your blood glucose levels. If it’s still below 70, consume an additional 15 grams of a simple carb, then check your levels again in 15 minutes. This is the 15–15 rule—consume a carb of about 15 grams, wait 15 minutes. Continue doing this until your blood glucose level is above 70.2 Make sure to pay attention to your blood glucose levels, a common error that people make is to over treat themselves with the result of raising their sugar levels too high.
When your blood sugar is normal again, eat a carbohydrate snack or meal, especially if your next regular meal won’t be for another hour. This will balance out your blood glucose levels4 because fast-acting carbs will not keep your levels up for long. Doing this will benefit your body as it can restore the glycogen used up from the hypoglycemic episode, and once again build up a supply.4 It will also give you more fuel to run on for a longer period of time.
*If you have kidney disease, don’t drink orange juice as the 15-gram carb because it has a lot of potassium. Instead, try other options, like cranberry, apple, or grape juice.3
*If you take acarbose or miglitol with medicines for diabetes that can cause hypoglycemia, treat hypoglycemia by eating glucose tablets or glucose gel. Consuming other carbohydrate foods or drinks will not raise your blood sugar level fast enough.3
If you are unsure as to why you experienced low blood glucose, call your doctor and explain the situation. It’s possible that your physician may need to adjust your medication as this could be a cause.2
HELP FROM OTHERS
If you are experiencing severe hypoglycemia, it may be necessary for someone else to help you with treatment. When you are unable to help yourself due to confusion and extreme disorientation, another person can encourage you to consume something sugary.
For anyone who may help a person with severe hypoglycemia, if you do not know the person, call an emergency responder right away. If you are helping a friend or family member and are sure of what to do, emergency assistance may not be necessary. In either case, stay with the person. If they can safely swallow, have them eat or drink something with sugar.
If the person is unconscious, do not try to give them food or drink, this could cause them to aspirate or inhale the food or liquid into their lungs.4 If they cannot swallow without the risk of choking, a glucagon injection or dextrose given intravenously, (through a vein), is the best treatment.5 If they need to be taken to a hospital for intravenous treatment, depending on the cause, it could take several days to bring their blood glucose back up to normal.6
After a glucagon injection, turn the person onto their side as this treatment could cause them to vomit and choke. The individual usually becomes conscious after about 10 minutes of an injection once their blood glucose is brought up to a normal level. If they do not wake up, they should be taken to a hospital right away.2
PREVENTION AND THINGS TO CONSIDER
Carry high carbohydrate snacks or candies with you at all times. People do not typically plan on putting themselves or others in danger by intentionally having a hypoglycemic episode. Your sugar levels can drop anywhere anytime depending on many factors.
If you have hypoglycemia unawareness, experience severe hypoglycemia, or have diabetes and use insulin, talk with your physician about a home glucagon kit for emergencies, as you require a prescription to have one. Explain how to use the kit to family, friends, and coworkers and show them where to find it.4 Make sure to check the kit periodically to ensure it hasn’t expired. Instruct the people around you to call 911 if they are uncertain of what to do in case of an emergency or if they don’t feel comfortable injecting glucagon.
You may also want to talk with your doctor about Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM). It is a small device worn at your waist with a sensor placed under the skin. The device monitors blood glucose levels throughout the day and can alert you when levels are too high or low.
Consider wearing a medical ID to let people know of your condition. This will provide others with important information and get you specific help faster. There are many types of medical ID’s available today that vary in appearance and can be quite fashionable.
TREATING AND PREVENTING HYPOGLYCEMIA CAUSED BY OTHER CONDITIONS
When a chronic health condition causes hypoglycemia, the same methods (as explained above) for treating low blood glucose should still be followed. Once your sugar levels are balanced and you’re feeling better, it’s necessary to then treat the underlying condition that caused the hypoglycemia. Often times, when it’s clear what the cause is, you can better prevent future hypoglycemic crashes.6
There are ongoing conditions, which cause low blood glucose that can be cured, like diseases of the adrenal glands, pancreas, liver, and also endocrine disorders. For insulinoma, an insulin producing pancreas tumor, surgery is usually needed as a beneficial long-term treatment.6 The tumor will be surgically removed, and at times part of the pancreas is taken out.4
For illnesses that cannot be cured, treatment should prevent hypoglycemia. Discuss options with your physician concerning diet as far as what foods are best and how much or often you should eat. Ask if your medication dosage should be adjusted, or if it would be helpful to change the time of your physical activity or exercise intensity. It may even be helpful to keep a journal of when you have low blood sugar symptoms, what foods you ate and at what time.6 (Check out my review of HealthTap, a service where you can speak with a doctor directly.)
There are lasting health issues where continuous treatment may be necessary, some examples are; liver disease, kidney failure, endocrine disorders, and even alcohol-related illnesses. Persistent conditions that can be managed through diet to prevent symptoms of low blood glucose are; diabetes, inherited enzyme or hormone deficiencies, and postprandial hypoglycemia.6 This usually means eating small meals throughout the day, which should prevent glucose levels from falling too low.
When medications are the cause of hypoglycemia, your physician will probably advise to change the medication or alter the dosage.4
With diabetes, pay attention to your doctor’s instructions and the management plan set-up to keep your health stable. If your meal or medication routine changes, you start taking new medicines, or your physical activities increase, discuss these changes with your doctor and how they might affect the management of your diabetes and the possibility of experiencing hypoglycemia.4
For people who have unawareness or difficulty keeping blood glucose balanced, using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is helpful. This device has a very small wire or electrode inserted beneath the skin to monitor glucose levels. The blood glucose readings are sent to a receiver about every five minutes. The CGM will sound an alarm when your glucose levels are rising too high or dropping too low. Keep a fast-acting carbohydrate or something sugary nearby to quickly treat hypoglycemia.4
If prolonged fasting, (not eating for an extended period of time), or demanding exercise is what causes hypoglycemia, it’s usually only a matter of eating a sugary food to raise blood glucose levels and then eating a meal. If you are concerned, however, do speak with your doctor about the experience so your questions and concerns may be addressed.6
Learn how to identify early warning signs of low blood sugar and make sure to treat it right away. Share with friends, family, and even co-workers about your hypoglycemia in case there is ever an emergency and you need their help. Explain the signs and symptoms to them and how they look to an observer. Keep track of your glucose levels and identify what the beginning warning signs are for you. Hypoglycemia does not have to hold you back from having adventures and living life to the fullest. With proper management, you’ll have less stress and more peace of mind.
Hypoglycemia does not have to hold you back from having adventures and living life to the fullest. With proper management, you’ll have less stress and greater peace of mind.
Published April 20, 2017
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What are your thoughts or questions? Do you have any experience with hypoglycemia or another condition that causes low blood sugar?
1) Andrew Curry. Going Low: Hypoglycemia: How the brain responds to low blood glucose. Diabetes Forcast. http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2015/may-jun/going-low-hypoglycemia.html. Published May 2015. Accessed April 14, 2017.
2) How to Treat A Low Blood Glucose. Joslin Diabetes Center. http://www.joslin.org/info/how_to_treat_a_low_blood_glucose.html. Accessed April 14, 2017.
3) Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia. Published August 2016. Accessed April 14, 2017.
4) Mayo Clinic Staff. Diseases and Conditions: Hypoglycemia. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/basics/definition/CON-20021103?p=1. Published January 20, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2017.
5) Mayo Clinic Staff. Diseases and Conditions Diabetic Coma: Treatments and Drugs. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-coma/basics/treatment/con-20025691. Published May 22, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2017.
6) Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in People Without Diabetes. Michigan Medicine University of Michigan: Department of Internal Medicine Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes (MEND). http://www.med.umich.edu/intmed/endocrinology/patients/Hypoglycemia.htm. Accessed March 29, 2017.