Do you know the No. 1 cause of blood sugar dips? Changes in food intake. You may go too long without eating carbohydrates, or step up your activity without adding extra food. Certain diabetes medications, such as insulin, can cause low blood sugar as well. Either way, these situations can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
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And it’s sometimes difficult to tell for sure when you’re experiencing problems.
Symptoms may vary from person to person; not everyone has the same warning signs. The problems are sometimes mild, but if they’re severe and left untreated, they could lead to seizures or unconsciousness.
Here’s what you need to know to recognize hypoglycemia when it happens — as well as steps you can take to help avoid the problem.
What are the most common signs of trouble?
Health professionals typically define hypoglycemia as blood sugar in a non-pregnant adult that is lower than 70mg/dl.
However, experts don’t define the severity by the number, but rather by the symptoms:
- Mild. In this case, low blood sugar can be treated by the person with diabetes alone.
- Moderate. The person experiencing low blood sugar is alert enough to ask for help, but he or she does require assistance.
- Severe. This person is completely unable to self-treat and may be awake or unconscious. Talk to your doctor to see what target levels are safe for you.
If you suspect you’re dealing with hypoglycemia, here are the most common symptoms to watch for:
- Sweating– One of the first signs of hypoglycemia is sweating or clammy skin. It often occurs regardless of the temperature outside.
- Hunger – Your body is great at letting you know when something is wrong. If it needs more glucose, it often sends out hunger signals. Watch for signs like feeling hungry even when you’ve eaten a meal. Also watch out for intense, abrupt hunger.
- Anxiety– If your body needs glucose, it will release adrenaline to help the liver make sugar. This adrenaline rush can sometimes make you anxious or nervous. It also will increase your heart rate.
- Shakiness– When glucose is low, it sometimes throws off your central nervous system. When this happens, it releases chemicals that cause shaking or tremors.
- Mood swings– Abnormal emotional changes are often a warning sign. They are sometimes minor and sometimes intense. Look for things like unusual outbursts, crying, irritability, feelings of isolation or confusion.
- Lightheadedness– Many people with low blood sugar feel dizzy, and it’s important to deal with it quickly to avoid fainting.
- Sleep disturbance – This presents itself in a range of symptoms including crying out, nightmares and night sweats. These sleep problems may make you feel unusually fatigued during the day.
- Sensory changes – Sudden vision problems, slurred speech or lack of coordination are all sometimes signs of low blood sugar.
How can you avoid these problems?
Issues caused by low blood sugar can range from mildly troubling to severe. A few smart practices can help keep you on track.
- Stick to a routine as much as possible. Try not to interrupt your normal schedule — even for things like travel, sickness or holidays.
- Have a snack or foods containing carbohydrates with you at all times in case you need an extra boost.
- Talk with your doctor or diabetes educator to find out how your medication works. Not all diabetes medications put you at risk for low blood sugar.
- Make sure to check your blood sugar regularly. If you feel any symptoms of low blood sugar, always try to test if possible before treating. This way, you can confirm whether or not the cause was low blood sugar versus another reason.
- Wear a medic alert identification — a necklace or bracelet — so others are aware of your healthcare needs in case of a problem.
- Contact your doctor if you are having two or more episodes of unexplained low blood sugar in a week.
- Educate family and friends on how they can help if you are experiencing low blood sugars. They should know what to do before a situation arises.
And remember, consistency is important. Try to eat about the same amount of carbohydrates evenly distributed throughout your day. That will go a long way toward keeping your blood sugar stable.