The immediate effects of hypoglycemia — low blood sugar levels — can be dangerous. What’s even more dangerous is that the person experiencing the low blood sugar may not know they are low, or aren’t aware enough of their surroundings to be able to ask for help. If you associate on a regular basis with a person who has diabetes, here are a few basics that you should know so that if you ever need to help, you can do so knowledgeably. People with diabetes should share these tips with friends, family and co-workers.

What is Hypoglycemia?

First, it will be helpful to know what is happening in the body when a person’s blood sugar drops too low. The cells in our body rely on glucose (sugar) to function properly. Cells use the glucose for energy so when there isn’t enough glucose in the blood, the cells start to shut down due to lack of fuel. Then some common symptoms will appear.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

One of the first signs of hypoglycemia will be lethargy and slower reaction. So if you ask a person experiencing low blood sugar a question and they take an extra long time to process and respond to your question, it may be a sign that you need to step in and help. Quite often a person with extremely low blood sugar has a hard time concentrating and can’t think clearly, so they may not comprehend the situation completely enough to know that they need to check their blood sugar. This is where you as a friend or family member can step in and ask them if they have tested their blood sugar and if they feel well.

Abnormal mood swings can be another sign of low blood sugar. Get ready for a roller coaster of emotions because they can change at any moment as blood sugar fluctuates. If a person’s blood sugar levels rise or drop rapidly, their emotions most likely will too.

What To Do When Someone You Know is Hypoglycemic

By far the best thing that you can do as a friend or family member of a person with diabetes that is experiencing hypoglycemia is to be aware of what is normal behavior for that person and if they are acting strange, ask them to test their blood sugar. The second most important thing is to be patient with them. They are not in the right frame of mind.

If their blood sugar is low, they need to bring it up fast because it can continue to drop very rapidly in some cases, and they could become unconscious. It may be smart to keep a juice box or some candy (but not chocolate!) around just in case they need it and don’t have any.

Ask the person with diabetes in advance what they would want you to do for them if their blood sugar did drop and they needed some help. Make a plan so that you can be prepared before it happens.