It is common to hear people talking about having high blood sugar, especially as the number of people with diabetes is on the rise. But you should be aware of the symptoms and effects of low blood sugar, too. It can be a dangerous situation if not addressed.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 30.3 million Americans (9.4 percent of the population) had diabetes, and approximately 1.25 million children and adults had Type 1 diabetes in 2015 (1).
Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar is defined as a blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL.
It’s common in people who have diabetes and take medicine that increases the insulin level in their body, skip meals, eat less than normal and over exercise.
Even people who do not have diabetes can suffer from low blood sugar. This can be due to certain medications (like quinine), medical conditions like hepatitis or kidney disorders, a tumor that produces excess insulin, and endocrine disorders like adrenal gland deficiency.
A low blood sugar level causes certain symptoms that often occur suddenly. These symptoms include blurry vision, rapid heartbeat, sudden mood changes, nervousness, unexplained fatigue, pale skin, headache, hunger, shaking, dizziness, sweating, difficulty sleeping, skin tingling, difficulty concentrating, loss of consciousness, seizure and coma, to name a few.
People with hypoglycemia often do not know that their blood sugar level is low. This is one reason health experts recommend that diabetic people always carry some healthy snacks with them.
Whenever you experience mild to moderate symptoms of hypoglycemia, you need to eat an easily digestible, carbohydrate-rich snack.
Here are some of the best ways to deal with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
1. Check Blood Sugar Level
When diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to get a blood sugar testing machine and always carry it with you.
This will allow you to quickly test your blood sugar level whenever you experience signs or symptoms of low blood sugar. If your reading is below 70 mg/dL, you need to do something to increase your blood sugar level.
The American Diabetes Association recommends eating a snack that has 15 to 20 grams of glucose or simple carbohydrates. Some good options include granola bars, fresh or dried fruit, fruit juice, pretzels and cookies (2).
Test your blood sugar level again in 15 minutes, and if it is not rising, have another carbohydrate-rich snack. If your blood sugar remains unresponsive, contact your doctor immediately.
2. Foods High in Sugar
When it comes to low blood sugar, it seems obvious that your diet must contain sugar-rich foods. Such foods provide a quick supply of glucose to the blood. Sugar is the primary treatment for a low blood sugar level, as it easy to digest.
Also, high-carbohydrate foods and dairy products are a must for hypoglycemic patients.
Some foods that can help raise your blood sugar quickly include sugar cubes, raisins, crackers, candy, skim milk, fruit juices, chocolate, glucose tablets and dextrose tablets, which are a must-carry for diabetics.
At the same time, avoid artificial sweeteners. They have no calories and do not contribute to the sugar level in the blood.
Eating a tablespoon of honey is also beneficial when suffering from low blood sugar.
Honey contains natural sugar, which is easily digested and absorbed into the blood. This will restore the normal blood sugar level.
It is also a strong source of antioxidants that may help protect against many diseases as well as complications related to diabetes. Do not overdo on honey, though.
One very effective natural cure for low blood sugar is licorice. This herb has a mild sweet taste and helps increase the blood sugar level in the body.
Drink a cup of licorice root tea whenever you experience symptoms of low blood sugar. To make the tea:
- Add ½ teaspoon of licorice root to a cup of hot water.
- Cover, let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes and strain it.
- Drink this tea while it is still warm.
Caution: If you have high blood pressure, do not consume the licorice herb. It is known to increase blood pressure.
5. Regular Meal Schedule
One of the best ways to prevent low blood sugar is to maintain regular mealtimes. This means you need to eat your meals more or less at the same time daily.
In fact, it is very important for diabetic people who take insulin or oral diabetes medication to be consistent about the amount of the food they eat and the timing of their meals and snacks.
Don’t skip meals or snacks, as it can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar. Eat small meals every two hours to help keep your blood sugar levels stable. It is recommended that you either eat six small meals a day or eat three big meals with three small snacks in between.
6. Balanced Diet
If you often suffer from low blood sugar, you may need to take a look at your diet. You should follow a balanced and stable diet that’s low in sugar and high in protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates.
The diet should include nuts, fruits and fresh vegetables. Seeds and nuts should be taken in raw form, and grains should be cooked.
People with low blood sugar should drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated and to flush toxic free radicals out of the body.
Avoid foods high in sugar, as they can cause a sudden increase in blood sugar followed by a sharp decline, which can be very dangerous. Of course, you will need to keep sugary foods handy to help deal with episodes of low blood sugar but generally avoid too much sugar as it may be followed by a sharp decline in blood sugar level.
Some other foods to avoid include refined and processed foods, canned foods, carbonated drinks and foods high in salt.
7. Moderate Exercise
Exercise is good for people diagnosed with diabetes, but you must pay close attention to physical activity if you often suffer from low blood sugar.
Whether you are working out in the gym or running errands, physical activity can lower blood glucose if done for hours. At the same time, strenuous exercise right before bedtime should be avoided, as it can cause your blood glucose to drop overnight. Avoid exercising in the two hours before your bedtime.
Eat a snack before and after you exercise to prevent your blood sugar level from dropping too severely. Check your blood sugar during extended periods of exercise and eat small snacks as necessary, especially if your blood sugar is less than 100 mg/dl.
Important: Do Not Drive with Low Blood Sugar
When you have low blood sugar symptoms, it is highly advisable not to drive.
Driving with low blood sugar can be very dangerous, as it can lead to accidents and even death.
A 2010 study published in the Annals of Saudi Medicine reports that it is a physician’s duty to familiarize the patient with the risk of hypoglycemia.
If hypoglycemic unawareness is present, the physician should advise the patient to stop driving until the condition is reversed. If needed, doctors should inform authorities if the patient cannot be persuaded to stop driving (3).
If you’re driving and you have hypoglycemia symptoms, stop the car, check your blood sugar and eat a sugary food.
Wait at least 15 minutes, and check your blood sugar again. Repeat these steps if necessary.
- Hypoglycemic patients should avoid stress and relax as much as possible. You can try yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises.
- If you get hypoglycemia, write down the date and time when it happened and what you did.
- Eat something every 4 to 5 hours.
- Eat a snack before bedtime, such as something with protein or a more complex carbohydrate.
- Do not increase or decrease your insulin dose without consulting your doctor first.
- Always take your medication as recommended by your doctor.
- Exercise 30 minutes to 1 hour after meals.
- Check your sugar levels before and after exercise.
- If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation and monitor your blood sugar level.
- Never consume alcohol on an empty stomach, as it can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar.
- Test your blood sugar as often as directed by your doctor.
- Use a medical identification necklace or bracelet and wallet card.
- If you see someone having a severe hypoglycemic reaction, take him or her to the nearest hospital for treatment.
- Statistics About Diabetes. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/.
- Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose). American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html.
- Hypoglycemia and safe driving. Annals of Saudi Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2994163/.