The following article is written by Griffin Faculty Physicians’ Endocrinologist Dr. Chi Tang. Click here to learn more about Dr. Tang and see his educational videos on diabetes.
For individuals diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to know when their blood sugar is considered low and how they can increase their blood sugar to a safe level.
It’s important to keep blood sugar levels in the target range as much as possible to help prevent serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. Staying in the target range can also help improve energy and mood.
Typical blood sugar targets are:
- 80 to 130 mg/dL before a meal
- Less than 180 mg/dL two hours after the start of a meal
When a person’s blood sugar is within the 70 to 80 range, appropriate actions are needed to depending on whether they have any symptoms of low blood sugar. Common symptoms of low blood sugar level include feeling sweaty, shaky, and/or dizzy. There is no need to act if a person is not experiencing these symptoms.
If a person has symptoms of low blood sugar, it’s best to act and bring their blood sugar levels up a little. One of the best options is to take four sugar pills.
Sugar pills, known as glucose tablets, are available at any pharmacy without a prescription. Each glucose pill has four grams of carbohydrate. After taking four pills, recheck blood sugar levels in 15 minutes. If the blood sugar level is still low, take another four pills and check again in 15 min. Continue until the blood sugar level is NOT low anymore.
Some patients ask me if they can just eat a cookie or a piece of bread instead of sugar pills. The problem with using food to manage blood sugar levels is that it takes too long to absorb them, so there is no immediate rise in blood sugar. Since low blood sugar can be life-threatening, it’s critical to bring the levels up as quickly as possible. Additionally, a person can also overcompensate by overeating.
If sugar pills are not an option because a person is vomiting or is in a coma, glucagon can be a lifesaver. Glucagon is a type of hormone that can quickly raise blood sugar and is available as an injection or nasal spray. For those who frequently have low blood sugar or had severe consequences from low blood sugar before, they should keep glucagon at home and at their workplace. Make sure someone else knows where it is stored and how to use it in an emergency.
Dr. Chi Tang is a member of Griffin Faculty Physicians Endocrinology Specialists. For more information, visit http://www.gfp.griffinhealth.org/specialty-care/endocrinology. To make an appointment, call 203-735-3500.