Recognizing the signs of low blood sugar in diabetics

Learn the best ways to help someone with diabetes who is suffering from low blood sugar.

While dining with friends over the holidays, one of them mentioned that a co-worker of his had a low blood sugar event while on the job. It took my friend by surprise and made him wonder what to do in such a situation. Fortunately, there was someone nearby who recognized the signs and was able to help. Do you know how to recognize if someone with diabetes is suffering from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and what to do to help them?

According to the Mayo Clinic, hypoglycemia can occur in people with diabetes if there is too much insulin and not enough sugar in their blood. It can happen if they have taken too much insulin, have skipped a meal or have exercised more vigorously than usual. Early signs of hypoglycemia include sweating, shakiness, dizziness or lightheadedness, fatigue and irritability. Some other early signs that may not be as noticeable to a bystander include hunger, rapid or irregular heart rate, headache and blurred vision. If the low blood sugar isn’t addressed right away, the symptoms become more pronounced. Sometimes the later symptoms may be mistaken for drunkenness. They include lethargy, confusion, behavior changes (sometimes dramatic), poor coordination and even convulsions.

The best and quickest way to help someone with diabetes who is suffering from low blood sugar is to provide them with a sugary food. This should be a food that contains 15 to 20 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as 5-7 Life Savers® or similar candies, three packets of sugar, a handful of raisins or a cup of juice or regular soda. The individual should test his or her blood sugar after 15 minutes to ensure that it is within the normal range. If it isn’t, more of the fast-acting carbohydrate should be eaten and the blood sugar checked again after 15 minutes. Once the blood sugar has reached a normal level, a snack such as peanut butter and crackers, low-fat cheese or a cup of milk, will help stabilize blood sugar. If the blood sugar has not reached a normal level after these steps have been repeated twice, seek medical attention.

Michigan State University Extension recommends learning to recognize the signs of hypoglycemia and  if you have diabetes, wearing a medical alert bracelet in case of an emergency. This will alert others to get appropriate medical attention and treatment. You may also want to tell a trusted co-worker about your condition so that he or she can assist if you need help while on the job.

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