Having diabetes is like trying to keep the peace between two feuding side of your family: the Lows and the Highs. You get pretty good at avoiding them, but then you unexpectedly bump into Aunt Low in the grocery store, and there’s now avoiding her.
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, (or just “a hypo”) happens when insulin has actually done its job too well and has transferred glucose from your blood to your cells so effectively that your blood sugar goes low, increasing the risk of insulin shock. It can happen if you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, exercise more than planned, inject too much insulin, or for reasons yet unknown (like it’s Tuesday and your blood sugar hates you).
Low blood sugar generally kicks in at 70 mg/dL or less, but target glucose levels vary, so be sure to talk to your doctor about what levels are healthy for you. Everyone will react to a low differently, so it’s important to be aware of all the signs and be ready to react. Here are 14 signs of low blood glucose:
Not being able to think clearly or concentrate is also a sign of high blood sugar, so it’s important to test to know for sure. If your confusion becomes severe, you may not realize you need to test your blood sugar, so react to this one early.
Is the room spinning? Is getting from point A to point B suddenly a monumental undertaking? Check your levels. Low blood sugar can mess with your physical and mental coordination and leave you feeling dizzy and lightheaded.
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3. You’re so very hungry
When your blood glucose is low, your body needs quick-absorbing carbohydrates to quickly renew its glucose supply, and you may feel like you want to eat everything ever. If you’re low, the American Diabetes Association recommends eating 15 grams of carbohydrates (the amount in about half a cup of juice or soda) and then testing again after 15 minutes. But you may feel like you need 15,000 grams of carbohydrate.
Sweating can be one of the first signs of a hypo—it’s part of the body’s initial adrenaline-fueled “fight-or-flight” response. Low blood sugar can cause sweating regardless of the external temperature.
If your head hurts it’s probably a good idea to check your levels. Low blood sugar can cause a headache, and other causes of a headache, like sickness, can also affect your glucose levels.
Fatigue, sleepiness, and weakness are classic signs of a low, though confusingly, they can also signal high blood sugar. It is essential that you test or get some carbohydrates quick if you are low, even if all you want to do is lie down. If your blood sugar drops too low, you could have a seizure or go into a coma.
7. Tingling skin
That tingling feeling can be caused by the release of adrenaline, especially if you feel tingling in the lips, tongue, or cheeks.
8. Severe mood changes
Dropping glucose can cause sudden, unexplained mood changes. If you’re suddenly nervous, anxious, grumpy, irritable, angry, irrational, or just want everyone to leave you alone, you may be having a low. If so, have some carbs and you’ll feel better. If the mood changes are not caused by low blood sugar, then you must be having a rough day and deserve some self-care online shopping.
9. Slurred speech
You may not notice if your speech becomes slurred due to low blood sugar, which will make it even more annoying when someone asks if you’ve been drinking. If you find you can’t get your words out clearly, or other people accuse you of slurred or confused speech, it’s time to check the glucose meter.
10. Trouble Sleeping Or Disturbed Sleep
Blood sugar dips are, unfortunately, common among people with diabetes. They can cause nighttime sweating, nightmares, crying out in the night, and confusion upon waking. Oh, and obviously, very poor sleep quality. Some find it helpful to have a snack before bed to help keep blood sugar in range.
11. Blurry vision
Double-vision or blurry vision can be caused by low blood sugar, so test your numbers, even if you have to get someone else to read the number.
12. Rapid or irregular heartbeat
If your heartbeat seems fast, irregular, or too strong for the occasion, you may be low. If you have a fitness tracker that checks heartbeat, you can learn what’s normal for you at rest. If you don’t have a way of checking your heart rate automatically you can practice taking your pulse by laying two fingers on your neck just under the corner of your jawline. Count the number of beats in 10 seconds and then multiply by six to get the number of beats in a minute. Though, if you are experiencing a hypo, that can be a difficult task—better to just check your meter.
Low glucose levels throw off your central nervous system, prompting the release of catecholamines, a hormone that encourages glucose production but can also cause shaking. Catecholamines can also cause shaking in other stressful situations.
14. Loss of consciousness
Finally, when low blood glucose levels become too severe, you can lose consciousness and slip into coma or seizure. At that point, someone should call 911 immediately. This is where a medical ID bracelet and friends who know what to do in case of an emergency can be a literal lifesaver!
If your body gets used to hypoglycemic episodes, it may no longer display symptoms or it may display less severe symptoms. This is referred to as hypoglycemia unawareness. Hypoglycemia is still dangerous even if your body no longer responds to it, and without the warning signs of low blood sugar, the risk of insulin shock or serious repercussions increases. It’s not safe to assume your blood sugar levels are fine just because you feel fine—get into the habit of checking levels regularly to stay safe.
Talk to your doctor about how to be prepared in case of a low, and talk to friends and family about how to help when your blood sugar drops. If you suspect you’re experiencing a low, avoid driving or putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation until your levels are in your target range.
Stay healthy, friends!Whizzco