Blood sugar, or blood glucose, provides the energy you need to work, play, or even think clearly. It is constantly circulated throughout your body.
Blood sugar is produced by the meals you consume. Insulin is a hormone that helps transfer sugar from your circulation into your body’s cells, where it is utilised for energy.
However, if your blood sugar levels go too low, you may have a variety of symptoms, some of which are very dangerous. Knowing what to do if your blood sugar levels go too low will help you stay safe.
What’s considered low blood sugar?
Your blood sugar tends to fluctuate throughout the day. It’ll be lower when you first wake up, especially if you haven’t eaten for the past 8 to 10 hours.
Your blood sugar will go up once you eat. Depending on when you last ate, here’s what’s considered to be a normal blood sugar range:
|Fasting||2 hours after a meal|
|70–99 mg/dL||Less than 140 mg/dL|
When your blood sugar levels go below 70 mg/dL, you have low blood sugar, often known as hypoglycemia.
The time it takes for low blood sugar symptoms to become apparent varies from person to person.
When blood sugar levels fall below 70 mg/dL, some people may feel nervous, irritated, or lightheaded. Others may not have any symptoms until they are well below that threshold.
Your blood sugar level may be measured with a quick, easy blood test. If you have diabetes or another medical condition that produces low blood sugar episodes, it’s critical to monitor your blood sugar using a home test on a frequent basis.
If a test reveals that your blood sugar level is below normal, you can take immediate action to correct it.
Symptoms of low blood sugar vary from person to person and can even be different from one episode to the next. You may experience specific symptoms the first time your blood sugar dips, and different symptoms the next time.
The most common mild to moderate symptoms of low blood sugar include:
- jitters or shaking
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- sudden hunger
- trouble concentrating
- pale complexion
- racing or irregular heartbeat
More severe symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- inability to eat or drink
In some cases, a condition called hypoglycemia unawareness can develop after frequent episodes of low blood sugar. This happens because the body gets used to low blood sugar, so symptoms become harder to pinpoint.
Hypoglycemia unawareness can be dangerous, as it reduces the opportunity for treating low blood sugar and increases the likelihood of severe hypoglycemia.
For mild to moderate symptoms, you can usually take steps yourself to get your levels into the normal range. For severe symptoms, it’s important to get immediate medical assistance.
What foods can help raise blood sugar fast?
Because your blood sugar comes from the foods and beverages you consume, one of the easiest ways to raise your blood sugar fast is to grab a quick snack.
The American Diabetes Association recommends the 15-15 rule if your blood sugar dips below 70 mg/dL: Eat at least 15 grams of carbohydrates, then wait 15 minutes to recheck your blood sugar.
If you’re still below 70 mg/dL, have another 15 grams of carbs, wait 15 minutes, and check your levels again.
Among the foods you can try for a quick blood sugar boost are:
- a piece of fruit, like a banana, apple, or orange
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- 15 grapes
- 1/2 cup apple, orange, pineapple, or grapefruit juice
- 1/2 cup regular soda (not sugar-free)
- 1 cup fat-free milk
- 1 tablespoon honey or jelly
- 15 Skittles
- 4 Starbursts
- 1 tablespoon of sugar in water
Foods that contain protein or fat, such as peanut butter, ice cream, and chocolate, may be helpful if your blood sugar level has dropped but isn’t below 70 mg/dL.
These higher-fat foods, as well as whole-grain bread and other high-fiber foods, take longer to absorb into your bloodstream. Because of this, these foods won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as foods that have more simple carbohydrates.
Can you raise blood sugar without food?
Two products — glucose gel and chewable glucose tablets — are also effective at quickly raising blood sugar. They’re available without a prescription and are recommended for people who experience frequent episodes of low blood sugar.
If you’ve had severe low blood sugar symptoms in the past, speak with your doctor about whether a glucagon kit is right for you. Glucagon is a hormone that triggers your liver to release glucose into the bloodstream.
These kits are only available by prescription. They’re used to raise your blood sugar when you’re not able to eat or drink, such as in a state of unconsciousness. Therefore, someone else, like a friend or family member, typically administers this medication for you.
An episode of low blood sugar that necessitates assistance from another person is by definition severe hypoglycemia. The kits come with a syringe and needle that can be used to inject glucagon into your arm, thigh, or buttocks.
Be sure to ask your doctor when and how to use a glucagon kit. Also, let your family and friends know how to use it and how to recognize a hypoglycemic emergency.
What can cause low blood sugar?
There are many different factors that can cause a dip in your blood sugar levels. Here are some of the most common causes.
Food and drink
Skipping meals or going too long without a meal or snack can cause just about anyone to experience a drop in blood sugar. Other causes related to food and drink include:
- not eating enough carbohydrates throughout the day
- not eating for hours after you wake up in the morning
- drinking alcohol without eating enough food
Exercising more or harder than usual can lower your blood sugar. After a particularly strenuous workout, take steps to ensure that your blood sugar level doesn’t drop too low by:
- consuming foods that are high in simple carbohydrates, like fresh fruit, chocolate milk, or hard fruit candies shortly after your workout
- not waiting too long before you eat a regular-sized meal
If you have diabetes, you may need to take synthetic insulin. In some cases, taking insulin can cause hypoglycemia due to:
- taking too much of it
- your body suddenly responding differently to the insulin
- the interaction of insulin with other drugs, including sulfonylureas and meglitinides
Several health conditions can also affect your blood sugar. Among them are:
- anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders
- hepatitis and other liver conditions, which can affect how your liver produces and releases glucose
- pituitary gland disorders, which can affect the release of hormones that control glucose production
- low adrenal function
- kidney disease, which can affect how waste products, including medicines, are flushed from your body
- insulinoma, which is an insulin-producing tumor of the pancreas
- advanced cancer
- inadvertently taking too much diabetes medication (insulin or sulfonylureas)