Managing your blood sugar is a vital part of living well with diabetes. Of course, even with your best efforts, medication adherence, and a good plan of eating and exercise, you may still sometimes find yourself experiencing low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia, which means blood glucose levels that are too low, is usually defined as readings below 70 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL – and it requires immediate treatment.

Signs of the condition may come on rapidly, and could include shakiness, anxiety, impatience, confusion, a racing heartbeat, dizziness, headaches, weakness, sadness and blurred vision. Low blood sugar can also cause other symptoms and even progress to seizures and unconsciousness if you don't treat the condition.

At the first signs of low blood sugar, you should check your blood glucose so you know what to do. If you don't have glucose monitoring supplies with you, assume symptoms mean your blood sugar is low and act on that information.

If you test your blood glucose and come up with a very low reading, it's time to act.

What to do about low blood sugar

The first step you should take when you realize you have low blood sugar is to eat or drink 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate. This gives you a lot of options - if you carry glucose tablets or gel, three or four tablets or a tube of the gel will be perfect. Otherwise, you can eat four to six pieces of hard candy, half a cup of fruit juice or a soft drink or 1 cup of skim milk. You can also go straight for the sugar and put a tablespoon of honey under your tongue.

After you consume your 15 grams of carbohydrates, wait for 15 minutes. This is a good time for you to be seated and not trying to undertake strenuous activity. By the way - if you're in the middle of something, let the people around you know you're experiencing low blood sugar and you need a break.

When 15 minutes have passed, measure your blood glucose level again. If it is still too low, eat or drink another 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates and wait another 15 minutes. You may also wish to call your doctor's office for advice on how to proceed - and remember that hypoglycemia can be extremely serious. Once your blood sugar returns to a normal range, eat a snack.

There are many reasons your blood sugar could dip too low, ranging from exercise to the timing of your diabetes medication doses. There may be things your doctor can do to help prevent low blood sugar episodes, which means you should discuss them with your care team to come up with a plan to manage them.

For more on diabetes and blood glucose:

When Blood Sugars Rise Overnight
Can Cinnamon Regulate Blood Sugar?
How Weather Changes Can Affect Your Blood Sugar