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Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

By Greg Zacarese

People who have diabetes are concerned about high blood sugar. However, low blood sugar is very dangerous as well. A certain amount of glucose in the blood is needed for proper brain function, as carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. A blood sugar of <70mg/dL is classified as hypoglycemia. This is when hunger, anxiety, shakiness, sweating, slurred speech, weakness, impatience, dizziness, anger, stubbornness, or sadness can occur. If left untreated, unconsciousness and/or seizures can occur. To prevent this, low blood sugar should be treated immediately. Treating hypoglycemia consists of the following:

  • First, test your blood sugar to know exactly how to treat the hypoglycemia.
  • If blood sugar is between 50-70mg/dL, take 15g of fast acting carbohydrates such as glucose tablets, ½ cup of orange juice/sugary beverage, 1 tbsp of sugar or honey, or hard candies such as life savers.
  • It is important that the carbohydrates are simple, fast acting carbohydrates. Carbohydrates such as bread, cookies, rice, crackers, etc. should be avoided because they won’t increase blood glucose as rapidly.
  • If blood sugar is <50mg/dL, take 30g of fast acting carbohydrates.
  • After the fast acting carbohydrates are consumed, wait 15 minutes, and then recheck blood glucose. If hypoglycemia continues, repeat these steps.

Treating hypoglycemia is important for many reasons. If hypoglycemia goes untreated multiple times, it can eventually lead to hypoglycemia unawareness. This is when individuals do not feel any of the symptoms of low blood sugar because their bodies gets used to it. It will then take a lower number for them to feel symptoms. This can be very dangerous, because the lower the numbers go, the more dangerous the hypoglycemia becomes. This is why preventing hypoglycemia is extremely important. The following are ways to prevent hypoglycemia:

  • Never skip meals. Always eat three balanced meals each day.
  • Check blood glucose regularly, and carry a glucose meter with you at all times.
  • Always carry glucose tablets or hard candies with you in case hypoglycemia occurs.
  • Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, so having a snack before a high intensity exercise can help prevent low blood sugar.
  • Always be aware of what you’re eating, of how many carbohydrates are on your plate, and how much insulin is required for that meal. There are many resources available, such as calorie king books, my fitness pal, and websites to help with carbohydrate counting.


Greg Zacarese is a Dietetic Intern with the University of SODEXO with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program


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