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How to Handle an Insulin Overdose

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Cold sweats, trembling hands, intense anxiety, a general sense of confusion -- no, it's not the night before final exams. These are signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and it often happens when you take too much insulin.

Hypoglycemia happens to many people with diabetes. And it can sometimes be serious. Thankfully, most episodes related to insulin can be avoided if you follow a few simple rules.

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How to Avoid Mistakes

You might have too much insulin in your system and get a drop in your blood sugar for several reasons. It most often happens when you:

Misread the syringes or vials. This is easy to do if you’re unfamiliar with a new product.

Use the wrong type of insulin. Let's say you normally take 30 units of long-acting and 10 units of short-acting insulin. It's easy to get them mixed up.

Take insulin, but don't eat. Rapid-acting and short-acting insulin injections should be taken just before or with meals. Blood sugar rises after meals. Taking rapid-acting or short-acting insulin without eating could lower sugar levels to a potentially dangerous level.

Inject insulin in an arm or leg just before exercise.Physical activity can lower blood sugar levels and also affect how your body absorbs insulin. Inject in an area that isn’t affected by the exercise.

Symptoms of an Insulin Overdose

The symptoms of low blood sugar levels that are brought on by an insulin overdose include:

If your blood sugar levels continue to fall, you can have serious complications, like seizures or passing out.

What to Do During an Insulin Overdose

Don’t panic. Most insulin overdoses can be treated at home. Follow these steps if you're able to do so:

  • Check your blood sugar.
  • Drink one-half cup of regular soda or sweetened fruit juice, and eat a hard candy or glucose paste, tablets, or gel.
  • If you skipped a meal, eat something now. Something with 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates should raise your blood sugar.
  • Rest. Get off your feet and take a break.
  • Recheck your blood sugar after 15 or 20 minutes. If it's still low, take another 15 to 20 grams of a quick-acting sugar, and eat something if you can.
  • Pay attention to how you feel for the next few hours. If you still have symptoms, check your sugar again an hour after eating. Keep snacking if your sugar is low.
  • If your sugar level stays low after 2 hours, or if your symptoms don’t get better, seek medical help.
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