Learn about low blood glucose and how you and those close to you can be prepared in the event of an emergency to keep you safe.
If you have diabetes, you need a rescue plan in case your blood sugar (glucose) levels get so low that you are unable to treat yourself and need someone to assist you. Make a plan and make sure the people who spend the most time with you recognize the signs of severe hypoglycemia. They may need to administer glucagon and call 911. Low blood sugar can be serious, but you don’t need to live in fear. Talk to your doctor or diabetes health-care provider and make a plan that is right for you.
Hypoglycemia is defined as a low blood glucose level of less than 4 mmol/L.i People who manage their diabetes with medication can experience hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can be caused by many things, including, but not limited to exercise, skipping meals, drinking alcohol and taking too much insulin relative to the amount of food eaten.
Hypoglycemia can present with multiple symptoms, and its severity can range from mild to moderate to severe. If you have diabetes, it’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar so you can treat it quickly. Learning the full spectrum of signs and symptoms for each stage of hypoglycemia is a great place to start.
Mild hypoglycemia usually causes some
of these signs:
Moderate hypoglycemia usually causes some of the same signs as mild hypoglycemia and may also cause:
Sometimes people experiencing a hypoglycemic episode only experience one or two of the symptoms listed above. Sometimes, people experiencing hypoglycemia don’t feel anything out of the ordinary at all. For these reasons, it’s important to check your blood sugar levels often.
If you experience mild or moderate hypoglycemia, you will likely be able to manage the episode yourself. You can self-treat with 15 grams of fast-acting sugar (glucose), examples include glucose tablets, 3 packets of sugar dissolved in water, or a tablespoon of honey.
Less familiar to most Canadians is severe hypoglycemia, which is a medical emergency. Severe hypoglycemia is when a person’s blood sugar becomes so low they’re unable to take fast-acting sugar themselves, and they need to be treated by someone else. Typically, during an episode of severe hypoglycemia, the person’s blood sugar level may fall below 2.8 mmol/L.iii They may show some or all of the symptoms of mild and moderate hypoglycemia, may lose consciousness or have seizures. In rare cases, severe hypoglycemia can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated adequately.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to ensure your close friends and family know what to do in the case of severe hypoglycemia, so they can take action if you need help. In every case of severe hypoglycemia, emergency services must be contacted.
It’s always good to be prepared for any degree of hypoglycemia – mild, moderate or severe – by wearing a Medic Alert® bracelet, keeping some form of fast-acting sugar on hand, and carrying a glucagon kit. Being prepared and informing the people who are close to you about your severe hypoglycemia rescue plan will help you address any severe hypoglycemic episodes quickly and successfully. Talk to your diabetes healthcare team and start building your plan today.
*This information is made possible through a partnership between Diabetes Canada and Eli Lilly Canada.
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i Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada. Can J Diabetes. 2018;42(Suppl 1):S1-S325.
ii HealthLink BC. “Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar.” Available at: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/aa20831 Accessed: January 9, 2019.
iii Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada. Can J Diabetes. 2018;42(Suppl 1):S1-S325.