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What is hypoglycemia?

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I thought low blood sugar was a good thing. But then my doctor told me when it gets too low, that’s called hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a blood sugar level so low (less than or equal to 70 mg/dL) that you need to treat it or adjust therapy. A hypoglycemic event that you can treat yourself is called mild or moderate hypoglycemia. With severe hypoglycemia, you won't be able to treat yourself and will need help from someone else right away.

Some things that may cause hypoglycemia:

  • Taking certain diabetes medications
  • Eating too few carbohydrates or skipping/delaying a meal
  • Taking too much diabetes medication
  • Being more active than usual

Common signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can come on quickly and vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or shakiness
  • Nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased heart rate
  • Changes in mood
  • Or you may have no symptoms at all

Severe hypoglycemia, which requires the assistance of another person to administer therapy (such as glucose or glucagon), can be dangerous and needs to be treated immediately.

Be prepared for the potential of hypoglycemia

I’ve had hypoglycemia before, and it’s no joke. My advice? Preparation is key! While hypoglycemia will always be a risk when taking some diabetes medicines, you can take steps to show it who’s boss.

Pack a snack
When you start to feel the symptoms of hypoglycemia coming on, check your blood sugar and eat or drink something with sugar to get your blood sugar level back up. It’s a good idea to always have a candy bar, apple juice, or glucose tablets with you.

Check your blood sugar
Check your blood sugar regularly, the way your doctor tells you to, and pay attention to how certain activities and medicines affect your blood sugar level. Talk to your diabetes care team if you notice any patterns that cause your blood sugar to dip too low.

Talk about all hypoglycemic events
Any time you have an episode of hypoglycemia, even if it’s mild and you are able to treat the symptoms yourself, tell your diabetes care team about it. They can help you out! There may be changes they can make to your care plan.

Discussing hypoglycemia with family and friends

Hypoglycemia may be tough for people with diabetes to talk about—even with their closest family and friends. A global survey of 4,300 caregivers conducted by Novo Nordisk found out that family members feel that more openly discussing hypoglycemia will bring them closer together and increase their understanding of how they can better help manage such events in the future.

Check out how three real people also living with diabetes opened up the conversation about hypoglycemia with their family and the impact it had on them.

What is hyperglycemia?

At the start of my journey with diabetes, I was all too familiar with high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. This happens when there is too much sugar in your blood. High blood sugar may affect people whether their diabetes is well controlled or not. For people whose diabetes is not well controlled, high blood sugar may happen because they’re not managing their diabetes as well as they should. Or they may not even know that they have diabetes. If you don’t treat your high blood sugar, it can lead to serious health problems. So get it checked out!

Signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia

High blood sugar can happen to you if you skip a dose of your diabetes medicine, eat more than usual, are less active than usual, are under stress, or are sick. If your blood sugar is too high, you may:

  • Feel very thirsty or hungry
  • Need to urinate more than usual
  • Feel like your mouth and skin are dry
  • Have blurry vision
  • Feel sleepy
  • Notice that sores and wounds are healing slower than usual
  • Have unexplained weight loss


Managing hyperglycemia

If you have signs or symptoms of high blood sugar (higher than 130 mg/dL when you are fasting and before a meal or higher than 180 mg/dL over 2 hours after a meal), check your blood sugar using your meter, and follow these steps:

  • If you check your blood sugar, your diabetes care team may ask you to check your blood sugar more often, like before meals, at bedtime, and sometimes 2 hours after a meal
  • Look for patterns in the times and causes of high blood sugar readings
  • Always follow what your health care provider tells you. Ask about what blood sugar levels you should tell him/her about
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water or sugar-free fluid. Personally, you may need more or less, but a general rule of thumb is to try to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day

If your blood sugar is higher than usual, you can help lower it if you take your medicine at the right time and follow the meal and activity plan you have discussed with your diabetes care team.

If you experience signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia, be sure to follow up with your health care provider.

What are the different diabetes treatments?

Anthony Anderson's diabetes story

Diabetes is diabetes, even if you’re a celebrity. Hear how I got real about healthy eating, being active, and taking my medicine as discussed with my doctor.

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