Having a “remedy” food handy helps diabetics treat low blood sugar

People with diabetes try to balance the food they eat with physical activity. Even so, there are times when blood sugar may fall to an unhealthy level.

For people with diabetes it is important to achieve balance among four areas that affect blood sugar: Food, physical activity, stress and medication. Having these areas in balance can avoid blood sugar that is too high or too low.

There are six main causes of low blood sugar in a person with diabetes:

  1. Participating in more physical activity than usual. This includes increased activity at work, as well as a change in the timing of physical activity.
  2. Skipping meals. This may involve foregoing breakfast or a delay in eating so that it has been more than four to five hours since the last meal or snack.
  3. Eating less food than usual.
  4. Eating that is not balanced between carbohydrate and non-carbohydrate foods.
  5. Alcohol use. The liver sees alcohol as a poison and works to rid our bodies of it first. This interferes with the normal function of the liver, which helps regular blood sugar.
  6. Timing and dosage of medication, which includes too much medication being taken for the amount of activity expended.

The most common signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include feeling shaky or weak, being anxious or confused, the heart pounding or beating faster, being hungry and having cold sweats.

If these are not addressed some people go on to experience headaches and blurred vision, nausea, irritability, slurred speech, sleepiness and even unconsciousness.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following steps for treating low blood sugar:

  • Check blood sugar levels immediately to see how low they are.
  • Eat a “remedy” or sugary food. This may include five to seven candies, three to four glucose tablets, three packets of sugar, a handful of raisins, eight ounces of regular juice or soda, or a remedy that’s been discussed with a health care provider.
  • Wait 15 minutes, note symptoms and check blood sugar again.
  • If the symptoms aren’t better or blood sugar remains low, repeat steps two and three: Eat a remedy food and wait 15 minutes.
  • Check symptoms and/or blood sugar again. If there is no improvement call a health care provider right away.
  • If the symptoms are better and the next meal is more than one hour away, eat a snack like half a sandwich, some cheese and crackers, a cup of milk or piece of fruit, etc.

By learning what causes low blood sugar we can often prevent it by balancing food with medication and physical activity. It is important to carry an emergency “remedy” or snack so that we can treat low blood sugar when it occurs. MSU Extension educators recommend consulting with a health care provider or diabetes educator if bouts of low blood sugar occur frequently or if you are not sure what to use as a remedy food.

MSU Extension offers Diabetes PATH, known in some areas as Healthy Living with Diabetes. For more information regarding diabetes or other chronic conditions, contact your local MSU Extension.

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