The NIDDK on Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia in Diabetes continued...
The aim of treatment in diabetes is to lower
high blood sugar levels. To do this, people with diabetes may use insulin or
oral drugs, depending on the type of diabetes they have or the severity of
their condition. Hypoglycemia occurs most often in people who use insulin to
lower their blood sugar. All people with type 1 diabetes and some people with
type 2 diabetes use insulin. People with type 2 diabetes who take oral drugs
called sulfonylureas are also vulnerable to low blood sugar
Conditions that can lead to hypoglycemia in
people with diabetes include taking too much medication, missing or delaying a
meal, eating too little food for the amount of insulin taken, exercising too
strenuously, drinking too much alcohol, or any combination of these factors.
People who have diabetes often refer to hypoglycemia as an "insulin
Managing Hypoglycemia in Diabetes
People with diabetes should consult their
health care providers for individual guidelines on target blood sugar ranges
that are best for them. The lowest safe blood sugar level for an individual
varies, depending on the person's age, medical condition, and ability to sense
hypoglycemic symptoms. A target range that is safe for a young adult with no
diabetes complications, for example, may be too low for a young child or an
older person who may have other medical problems.
Because they are attuned to the symptoms,
people with diabetes can usually recognize when their blood sugar levels are
dropping too low. They can treat the condition quickly by eating or drinking
something with sugar in it such as candy, juice, or nondiet soda. Taking
glucose tablets or gels (available in drug stores) is another convenient and
quick way to treat hypoglycemia.
People with type 1 diabetes are most
vulnerable to severe insulin reactions, which can cause loss of consciousness.
A few patients with long-standing insulin-dependent diabetes may develop a
condition known as hypoglycemia unawareness, in which they have difficulty
recognizing the symptoms of low blood sugar. For emergency use in patients with
type 1 diabetes, physicians often prescribe an injectable form of the hormone
glucagon. A glucagon injection (given by another person) quickly eases the
symptoms of low blood sugar, releasing a burst of glucose into the
Emergency medical help may be needed if the
person does not recover in a few minutes after treatment for hypoglycemia. A
person suffering a severe insulin reaction may be admitted to the hospital so
that blood sugar can be stabilized.
People with diabetes can reduce or prevent
episodes of hypoglycemia by monitoring their blood sugar levels frequently and
learning to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar and the situations that
may trigger it. They should consult their health care providers for advice
about the best way to treat low blood sugar. Friends and relatives should know
about the symptoms of hypoglycemia and how to treat it in case of
Episodes of hypoglycemia in people with type
1 diabetes may become more common now that research has shown that carefully
controlled blood sugar helps prevent the complications of diabetes. Keeping
blood sugar in a close-to-normal range requires multiple injections of insulin
each day or use of an insulin pump, frequent testing of blood glucose, a diet
and exercise plan, and guidance from health care professionals.