Amy Tenderich was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May of 2003. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Diabetes Mine and co-authored the book Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes. You will frequently find her speaking at diabetes, health, and social media events across the country.
“Hypoglycemia” is a fancy word for when your blood sugar goes too low. This is defined as less than 70 mg/dl. It’s the point at which there is so little sugar to fuel your brain that your body can no longer function properly, and you feel very uncomfortable: nervous, sweaty, muddle-headed, and/or shaky.
This probably scares people who take insulin the most. But you should know that extreme cases of “insulin shock” are exceedingly rare. And luckily, the very symptoms described are your best defense; those nervous, sweaty, shaky feelings (caused by a surge of adrenaline in your body) alert you to the fact that you are getting “low” and need to ingest some sugar right away!
You need to treat hypoglycemia immediately by eating or drinking something very sugary: fruit juice, regular cola, five to seven Lifesavers or other hard candy, or three glucose tablets (which come in handy little plastic canisters that can be purchased at any drugstore).
NOTE: Pure carbohydrate is important because it absorbs into your bloodstream immediately, raising your glucose right away. Any sweet containing more fat, like chocolate, takes too long to absorb into your system, so it's no good for treating “hypos.”
To help avoid low blood sugar in the first place:
- Always carry some fast-acting carbohydrate with you, like glucose tablets or Lifesavers candy.
- Always check your blood glucose level before and after exercise.
- When eating out, be sure to wait until your food is served before taking your insulin shot. Otherwise, an unexpected delay in the meal could lead to a low.
- Exercise after a meal or snack, allowing you to lower or even skip the bolus insulin dose you would otherwise need.
- Be especially carefully while traveling, in particular at night, because during the day people tend to walk more and eat less. Be sure to carry your fast-acting carbs (candy, glucose tablets, gel, etc.) and your glucose meter with you at all times.