Jeanette Terry was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old, and she has since lived with diabetes through difficult life transitions, including the teenage years, college, and having children. She addresses the day-to-day struggles of living with diabetes—going beyond medical advice—to improve overall adherence and management.

Low blood sugar, otherwise known as hypoglycemia, can be very dangerous. Everyone living with diabetes experiences lows differently. Some people can still function with incredibly low blood sugar readings, while others have a hard time getting to the closest glass of juice even if they aren’t that low.

Luckily, I have never required assistance in bringing my blood sugar up, even when it was in the mid 30s. However, I have friends that have lost consciousness because of low blood sugar.

So the question is, how low can you go before it gets dangerous?

Experts from the Joslin Diabetes Center define hypoglycemia generally as a blood glucose level below 70 mg/dl, or more specifically, the point at which you are not able to independently treat yourself. Severe hypoglycemia can cause mental confusion, antagonistic behaviors, unconsciousness, or even seizures.

You never know when your blood sugar is going to plummet, and you can quickly get into a sticky situation. It might not always happen in the safety of your own home, either.

If you plan to do any of the following activities, check your blood sugar first to ensure you don’t experience a low in a critical situation.

Driving

If you choose to drive when you could possibly have a low blood sugar, you are putting yourself and everyone else on the road in danger. If you do feel any symptoms of low blood sugar, pull over and test your blood sugar, then resolve the situation appropriately. If you are pulled over by a policeman and your low blood sugar is causing you to drive recklessly, you can be issued a DUI. So play it safe and test before you drive. You should also always keep a snack in your car.

Exercise

High-exertion exercise, such as swimming or running, can cause blood sugar to drop rapidly. If you experience any low blood sugar symptoms while exercising, don’t wait until the end of your workout to take care of it.

Low blood sugar can also become very dangerous when you are sleeping, talking, or even watching the kids.

The fear of low blood sugar

Thankfully, I have always been able to treat myself for a low blood sugar. But no matter how much experience I have in dealing with low blood sugar, it is still terrifying every time I feel the symptoms. I just never know if this time my blood sugar will drop too rapidly and I'll be unable to treat myself, and I’ll end up unconscious on the floor.

Every time I get suddenly sweaty or even just a little bit shaky, my mind immediately runs through what I have eaten that day and the last time I gave insulin. The very next thought is always: what do I have lying around that could bring my blood sugar up quickly?

If I am lucky, confusion doesn’t set in until I have already recognized that I have low blood sugar, and I can either enlist someone with me to help or I can find something to eat fast enough. Sometimes the low blood sugar causes enough confusion that I don’t understand why I am so sweaty or dizzy.

This confusion instigates frustration and irritability—feelings that don’t help the situation, especially if someone is trying to help me. Or, so my husband says. Luckily, once the blood sugar levels have risen to normal, there aren’t usually any bad side effects, except people explaining to me my strange behavior.

Treat hypoglycemia immediately

Hypoglycemia can be relatively harmless if treated early. But it is hard to know when it crosses into dangerous territory. Don’t treat low blood sugar lightly. Correct it as soon as you feel the symptoms in order to prevent serious consequences. The uncertainty of hypoglycemia is where the danger truly lies. Don’t let it catch you off guard because you have a false sense of confidence or security.

So never ask yourself the question: “How low can I go?”

Don't let it get to that point.

To learn more about hypoglycemia:

Foods for Fighting Hypoglycemia
What Causes Hypoglycemia?
Avoid the Blood Sugar Extremes for Better Diabetes Control