Hypoglycemia – The Dangers of Low Blood Sugar Levels

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People with diabetes are normally concerned about their blood sugars, especially if they are experiencing higher than normal blood sugar levels, because that is the major diabetic problem in life that a person with diabetes normally has to deal with. But it is also important for the diabetic to be aware of a situation that is “opposite” to high blood sugar levels, a condition that doctors call hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is characterized by an abnormally low level of blood sugar. The sugar carried in the bloodstream, called glucose, is an essential nutrient for the body and is the body’s main source of energy, needed constantly by the body’s cells.

Episodes of hypoglycemia are not common and are not often experienced by most adult diabetics or diabetic children of 10 years and older, but they do happen and the condition should be quickly recognized and treated promptly when it does. Hyoglycemia must be treated promptly because it can become progressively worse in a relatively short time, sometimes after tens of minutes, and can lead eventually to additional problems and in some extreme cases, it can become a life-threatening event.

From my own experience as a diabetic I suspect that most of my fellow diabetics have had a few such lower than normal blood sugar occurrences. Food is the source of the blood sugars, especially the carbohydrate content of food. One reason that a hypoglycemic event might occur in a diabetic person is when they have not eaten any food for too long a period of time. An additional or alternative cause might be when they have deliberately avoided consuming carbohydrates, ironic perhaps, because by not eating carbohydrates they wish to combat their own above normal blood sugars that they know can be caused by a high carbohydrate intake.

Just as the avoidance of too many high-carbohydrate foods is a standard recommendation in the treatment of diabetes, so too is the recommendation to participate in some form of exercise. However, sometimes too much exercise can cause blood sugar problems. The muscles involved in exercise require sugar, and low blood sugars can occur after having been involved in vigorous exercise at a time when the body has insufficient blood glucose to supply the necessary energy for the extra activity.

For the person with diabetes, it is not easy to know, without taking a blood test, whether or not they have above normal blood sugar levels but in the case of lower than normal blood sugars, the symptoms experienced are usually noticeable. When glucose levels become too low it can have an effect on the brain and often a sense of confusion and an inability to perform routine tasks becomes apparent. Should that happen, fortunately it can serve as a warning, an alert for the diabetic who is familiar with such symptoms to take immediate action to rectify the situation, usually by eating food that can provide a quick boost of sugar to their system.

Some other recognizable possible symptoms are sweating, anxiety and a sense of unease, trembling hands, perhaps heart palpitations, hunger pangs, blurred vision or other visual disturbances.

The important thing is to know what to do if and when it happens. Whenever a low blood sugar event occurs, a prompt response is needed.

The quick solution is to eat or drink a fast-acting glucose food item. The condition has occurred often enough to me to know what to do, my personal choice is to first drink half a glass of apple juice and I try to always keep a supply of apple juice available.

Possible food items to raise blood sugar levels back to normal, any one of the following:

a half glass or half cup, 4 ounces, of apple juice, orange juice, or similar fruit juice

a teaspoon of honey or sugar

glucose tablets, usual 3 or 4 are sufficient

5 or 6 pieces of hard candy

an 8-ounce glass of milk

a half glass of non-diet pop

Something containing about 15 grams of carbohydrate such as a fast acting energy bar or a serving of glucose-gel snack.

Be ready for an emergency even though it is a rare event

If a hypoglycemic event is not promptly treated and then progresses to a more serious stage, it can lead to a diabetic coma or seizure, even to the extent of becoming life threatening, I’m reluctant to say death but it can happen. The fact that this is known to happen underscores the need to be ready for an emergency of any degree. Try to always have a suitable supply of a fast acting glucose source readily available.