Sugar or glucose is the body’s main source of energy. The food that we eat every day is what supplies sugar in our body. The process of digestion breaks down the food that we eat into simple sugar. With the help of the insulin produced by the pancreas, the sugar or glucose resulting from digestion will then go to the bloodstream for absorption by body cells to be used as energy. (Read more about Diabetes Symptoms, Type 2 Diabetes)
However, the right amount of sugar in our blood can be affected by some conditions and one of those is diabetes. Aside from getting a higher than normal blood sugar level, a person with diabetes may also experience a low blood sugar level. Much like high blood sugar, low blood sugar can put someone’s life in danger if not treated. Low blood sugar symptoms are also more noticeable than that of high blood sugar so those should be easier to detect and control.
What is low blood sugar?
Low blood sugar occurs when the glucose concentration in the blood drops ldower than the normal level. This condition is also known as hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar level is normally confirmed by comparing test results to the normal blood sugar range measurements. The normal blood sugar range is different for certain activities:
- Normal fasting (eight hours of no food) blood sugar level is between 70 and 99 mg/dl
- Normal blood sugar level two hours after eating is less than 140 mg/dl
If your doctor has tested your blood sugar, whether after an eight-hour fasting or 2 hours after eating, and the result is below the normal measurement, you are at high risk of hypoglycemia. Proper medication will be advised to address your low blood sugar issue.
For people with confirmed diabetes and are doing tests at home to monitor blood sugar level, here are the general guidelines where you can compare your test results from.
This guideline covers those aged 20 and above.
|After Fasting||Less than 100 mg/dl|
|Before Meal||70-130 mg/dl|
|After Meal (1-2 hrs.)||Less than 180 mg/dl
|Before Exercise||If taking insulin, at least 100 mg/dl|
|A1c||Less than or around 7.0%|
What are the symptoms of low blood sugar?
Low blood sugar is a condition that everyone needsto be serious about. As early as possible, low blood sugar should be detected and treated to avoid developing severe hypoglycemia that could lead to death.
Unlike high blood sugar, the symptoms of low blood sugar are more noticeable. Here are some of the most common symptoms of low blood sugar that a person may experience.
- Extreme hunger. If after eating you feel like you still need more, or if suddenly you feel starving, it could be because of low blood sugar. The low level of glucose in the blood will signal the brain that you need food and this makes you feel hungrier than usual. When this happens, one ofthe best things to do is to immediately supply the body with food high in carbohydrates. Examples are raisins, 4 ounces of fruit juice, and hard candy. These can be taken preferably in an amount of 15 grams to pacify hunger and supply the body immediately with the needed glucose or sugar.
- Anxiousness. When blood sugar concentration drops very low, your body will send a signal to the adrenal gland to produce more adrenaline. As a result, the liver produces more sugar as well creating what we term an “adrenaline rush” and this brings the feeling of anxiety to the person.
- Shaking and trembling. With the lack of glucose in the blood, the brain or the central nervous system starts to malfunction. In return, it will release catecholamine. This chemical boosts the production of glucose but causes the body or parts of it to shake or tremble.
- Sleep disturbances or restless nights. Low blood sugar can cause nocturnal hypoglycemia. This condition causes a person to experience sleep disturbance. Some of the most common symptoms of this are the feeling of unrest, confusion upon waking, night sweats, episodes of waking suddenly, and crying out. To avoid this, it is recommended that people with low blood sugar take a snack before going to bed.
- Dizziness and light-headedness. This is one of the most common symptoms of low blood sugar. If a person is experiencing this, it is better to have him or her seated as he or she might fall over and pass out.
- Inability to focus or concentrate. The lack of glucose in the body affects the brain greatly. With the malfunction in the central nervous system, the ability of a person to pay attention or concentrate is affected.
- Mood swings. Low blood sugar causes emotional instability. Moods can change swiftly. This includes hysterical crying, irrational outburst, strong desire to be left alone, and uncontrolled anger. Sometimes, it could be milder such as irritability and annoyance.
- Eye or vision problems. Low blood sugar can result to blurred vision or even trigger other eye problems such as glaucoma and cataract.
- Garbled speech. You might not notice it as it is caused by your own brain, but other people will notice that you talk slower and unclear as if you are a bit drunk even if you’ve not touched any alcohol.
- Sweating. People with low blood sugar may experience excessive perspiration. This can happen whether the external temperature is hot or cold.
What can we do to prevent low blood sugar?
In most cases, people with diabetes and are taking insulin may suffer from low blood sugar. Too much monitoring and controlling of glucose to avoid going above normal sometimes results to lower than normal sugar level. Thus, it is imperative that diabetics learn how to properly balance their diabetes management plan.
To avoid low blood sugar or hypoglycemia, here are some tips that you can observe.
In most cases, people with diabetes forget to ask their doctors of the effects of their medication. It is important that you are aware of the possible effects of the medicines that your doctor prescribed. Ask your doctor if the medicine you’re taking can lower your blood sugar below the normal. Examples of these medicines that can cause low blood sugar are insulin treatment and sulfonylureas.
There are several types of sulfonylureas and the most common are:
The older types of sulfonylureas include:
One thing that you need to take note before taking any medication, whether it is for diabetes or not, you must consult your doctor to avoid any further issues and health complications.
The amount of carbohydrates that you consume might not be enough to sustain a normal blood sugar level if you are taking too much insulin. This may happen on certain instances like:
- If you eat later than the usual schedule
- If you drink alcohol without eating first
- If you don’t eat a full meal or you miss a snack
- After a meal which has a lot of simple sugars
Always remember that when you’re taking diabetes medication, you must not skip meals and snacks or else these medications like insulin will cause your blood sugar to drop. (Read more about Diabetic Diet)
In addition, here are some quick food to grab if your blood sugar drops below normal. These foods and their corresponding amount can quickly get your blood sugar level up.
- Glucose tablets (3-4 tablets)
- Table sugar (1 tablespoon or 3 teaspoons)
- Glucose gel (1 tube)
- Jelly beans (10-15 pieces)
- Hard candy (3 pieces)
- Candy e.g. Life savers (5-7 pieces)
- Gum drops (10)
- Raisins (2 tablespoon)
- Fruit juice or regular soda pop (½ – ¾ cup)
- Fat-free milk (1 cup)
- Honey (1 tablespoon or 3 teaspoons)
Low blood sugar and its complications
Low blood sugar and the symptoms that it brings are something that you really should not ignore. This health condition could lead to more severe health conditions and cause death if left untreated. Some of the complications that low blood sugar can bring are diabetic coma, seizure (insulin shock), loss of consciousness (passing out), and worst, death.
What is high blood sugar?
High blood sugar or Hyperglycemia is a condition which refers to persistent higher than normal concentration of glucose in the blood. In this case, high amount of glucose is stranded in the blood stream, left unabsorbed by the cells either due to the lack of insulin in the body or the body’s resistance from insulin. Remember that without insulin, glucose will just accumulate in the blood, unutilized by the body cells. Hyperglycemia is often seen in people with poorly managed diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome, and other illnesses. Long-term hyperglycemia may lead to more complications that can affect the kidney, eyes (retina), and other organs.
Symptoms of high blood sugar
Severe high blood sugar can lead to a more fatal condition such as a diabetes coma. With this, it is therefore important that we become aware of the most common symptoms of high blood sugar for the early prevention and control of other complications. Symptoms of high blood sugar are:
- Frequent urination. The kidney reacts to excess sugar in the blood by dumping it out through urination. Thus, you will notice you are urinating more frequent than usual because of increased urine production.
- Increased thirst. Dry mouth is a common thing for people with high blood sugar level. Frequent urination removes too much water from the body resulting to dehydration. In effect, you will experience increased thirst.
- Fatigue. This is characterized by extreme weakness normally during the day even if you were able to get enough sleep or rest the night before. This is due to unutilized blood sugar in the blood to energize the body.
- Nausea. Because of the high blood sugar concentration, the body reacts abnormally, causing people to experience short-live or severe nausea which eventually triggers vomiting.
- Shortness of breath and fruity-breath odor. Because of the unused glucose in the blood, no energy is produced. In effect, body cells use ketones (toxic acid) to generate energy. As a result of the buildup of ketones in the blood, Ketoacidosis develops, which causes shortness of breath and fruit-smelling breath.
- Rapid heart rate. Little or no insulin makes the heart pound faster.
Practical tips to manage high blood sugar
- Always follow your medication plan. Do not deviate from what your doctor has prescribed.
- Stick to your diabetic meal plan. This way you can control your food intake and avoid causing your blood sugar to spike up.
- Properly and regularly monitor your blood sugar level. If high blood sugar is detected, it must be addressed immediately to prevent other complications.
- Avoid, or if not, control your alcohol and beverage intake that can heighten your blood sugar concentration.
- Keep away from stress. Stress can slowly increase your blood sugar over several years.
What is the normal blood sugar range?
Normal blood sugar range refers to the right measurement of blood sugar concentration in the body. This range varies depending on circumstances. Here, the normal blood sugar range variation is based on circumstance:
- Fasting blood sugar. Normal range for fasting blood sugar is 70-100 mg/dl. This range is normally taken after 6 to 8 hours of fasting.
- After eating, a normal person’s blood sugar rises but it does not usually go beyond 135 to 140 mg/dl.
For people with diabetes, they could either experience low blood sugar or high blood sugar. Blood sugar level if these happen are as follows.
- For low blood sugar or hypoglycemia, the blood sugar could drop to 65-60 mg/dl. In severe cases, this could even go down to 50-20 mg/dl where people with diabetes will start to experience progressive loss of mental operation.
- For high blood sugar or hyperglycemia, the blood sugar level could go up to 180-200 mg/dl. In worst cases, this could go beyond 400-500 mg/dl and cause a person’s brain to malfunction.
The key weapon to fight low blood sugar and high blood sugar is discipline and awareness. Discipline and awareness are needed to properly stick with and observe the treatment plan that your physician has prescribed.