Low Blood Sugar Basics

Learn your lows

If you have diabetes, you may experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) from time to time. Some people with diabetes may experience low blood sugar without realizing they are experiencing it. Even more importantly, many people don’t know that it may be avoided. Click here to test your knowledge about blood sugar.

There are two ways low blood sugar can be monitored:

  • Self-tests using a glucose meter that measures your blood sugar at a specific moment
  • The A1C test performed by your doctor, which shows your average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months

By learning more about the causes and symptoms of low blood sugar, you can take steps to help reduce the risk of future episodes from occurring. Get started now!

What happens when you have low blood sugar?

  • Low blood sugar can be caused by eating less or later than usual, changes in physical activity, or certain diabetes medications
  • Symptoms that may be caused by low blood sugar include:
    • Nervousness or anxiety
    • Shakiness
    • Sweating
    • Tiredness
    • Confusion
    • Hunger
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Dizziness
  • Learning to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar and quickly checking your blood sugar level using a glucose meter is important – symptoms from low blood sugar may be mild at first but may worsen quickly if not treated

What should I do if I have symptoms?

  • If you think you have any symptoms of low blood sugar, check your blood sugar right away
  • If your blood sugar is 70 mg/dL or below, eat or drink something that will raise it quickly. Fifteen grams of a carbohydrate that contains sugar works best, such as:
    • Five to six pieces of hard candy, such as five Life SaversВ® candies
    • One half-cup fruit juice or regular — not diet — soda/carbonated soft drink
    • One tablespoon sugar, jam or honey
    • Three glucose tablets (available without a prescription at most pharmacies)
  • Low blood sugar can happen when you are taking certain diabetes medications, which is another reason it’s important to closely monitor your blood sugar levels as frequently as your healthcare provider recommends
  • Talk to your diabetes healthcare team (primary care provider, endocrinologist and diabetes educator) if you often experience low blood sugar levels. You may need to discuss changes to your meal plan, physical activity or diabetes medication. Your diabetes healthcare team can determine whether a change in your treatment plan is needed
  • Click here for more information on what to do if you are having low blood sugar

What causes low blood sugar?

  • Low blood sugar can be caused by the following:
    • Skipping meals or irregular mealtimes
    • Sudden increase in or excessive exercise
    • Certain diabetes medications

Consequences of low blood sugar

  • Symptoms of low blood sugar can get worse if not treated quickly. Failure to treat symptoms can cause you to lose consciousness, which requires emergency treatment

How can I help reduce the risk of low blood sugar episodes?

  • To help control low blood sugar, work with your diabetes healthcare team to develop a personal eating, activity and medication schedule, if needed, that you can stick to. Don’t skip meals and carry snacks with you to help keep your blood sugar in control, including:
    • Mixed dried fruit and nuts
    • Piece of fruit and a small wedge of cheese
    • Whole grain crackers with peanut butter
  • Always carry carbohydrates that contain sugar (such as hard candy or glucose tablets) so you can treat low blood sugar levels at any time
  • Talk with your diabetes healthcare team before starting or making any changes to your exercise program
  • If you are experiencing episodes of low blood sugar, talk with your diabetes healthcare team about ways to help reduce the risk of future episodes, including potential adjustments to your medication

Etie Moghissi, MD, FACP, FACE

Dr. Etie Moghissi is a clinical endocrinologist involved in patient care in private practice in Marina del Rey, California, as well as an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology and is a member of the board of trustees of the American Collage of Endocrinology.

As a clinical endocrinologist, I treat a number of people with type 2 diabetes and know that managing the disease can be a difficult undertaking. The initial diagnosis is often overwhelming and many patients do not realize that high blood sugar levels over time can lead to serious long-term complications.

That’s why I’m working on the Blood Sugar Basics: Get to Your Goals program to provide you with clear tools and missions that encourage you to know your A1C and talk to your diabetes healthcare team (including your primary care provider, endocrinologist, and/or diabetes educator) about setting and attaining your blood sugar goals.

By working with your diabetes healthcare team, you can develop an individualized treatment plan and learn more about how lifestyle changes, such as meal planning and physical activity, and medication, when prescribed, all play key roles in helping you reach your A1C goal and blood sugar goals. For more advice about type 2 diabetes management and the importance of teaming up with your doctor, click here.

I am very excited about Get to Your Goals and hope that you find it to be a helpful resource. I know how important it is for people with type 2 diabetes to work with their diabetes healthcare team to set personal goals and a plan for achieving them, and that’s exactly where you’ll start with the first mission of Get to Your Goals – Gather Intelligence.