People living with diabetes know that the condition comes with highs and lows — especially when it comes to managing blood sugar. For those on insulin, blood sugar can get so low that it’s considered a medical emergency (known as severe hypoglycemia or a very low blood sugar emergency). This can happen unexpectedly. This means that people living with diabetes must be prepared for the unexpected lows, and just as importantly, make sure their support network knows how to help.
“When a very low blood sugar emergency happens, the person becomes unable to treat themselves, meaning that someone around them will need to act and administer a rescue treatment,” said Dr. Gregory Dodell, MD, FACE, AACE Endocrinologist, Diabetes Expert. “That’s why it’s critical for people with diabetes to be prepared, have a rescue plan, and empower their support network with their plan.”
Dr. Dodell shared some tips to help be prepared for low blood sugar.
Learn the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar and very low blood sugar emergencies.
Low blood sugar occurs when blood sugar (glucose) levels have fallen below 70 mg/dL, but symptoms may start occurring at higher glucose levels as well. A drop in blood sugar can range from:
- Mild: The person is conscious and able to think clearly enough to self-treat by eating or drinking fast-acting carbohydrates, like certain candies or juice that contain sugar.
- Moderate: The person is conscious but may not be thinking clearly. He or she can usually self-treat moderate low blood sugar with glucose tablets or by eating or drinking fast-acting carbohydrates.
- Severe (very low): The person is conscious or unconscious and unable to self-treat, requiring someone else to administer a rescue treatment, like glucagon. This is a very low blood sugar emergency.
In each of these scenarios, it’s important to recognize the signs, check blood sugar, and take the appropriate steps to bring blood sugar levels back within a target range. Symptoms of low blood sugar vary at different stages and from person to person, but may include pale complexion, shakiness, lack of coordination, mood changes, slurred speech, inattention and confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness.
Develop a low blood sugar preparedness plan.
People on insulin may be at risk for a very low blood sugar emergency, so it’s important that they talk to their doctor about being prepared and which glucagon prescription is right for them and their support network. Part of having a low blood sugar preparedness plan is keeping your support network in the know so they’re ready to help in case of an emergency.
To help people with diabetes be prepared in the event of a low blood sugar and a very low blood sugar emergency, Lilly Diabetes launched the Know Before the Low educational initiative (KnowBeforeTheLow.com), where people with diabetes and their support network can find information as well as questions to ask their healthcare team about a preparedness and rescue plan that’s right for them.
Think beyond your friends and family for your support network.
Dr. Dodell emphasized that people with diabetes should reflect on their routines and look at who is around them to determine who may be able to administer a rescue treatment during an emergency. A support network should go beyond family and friends to include co-workers, coaches, roommates, teachers or neighbors.
“On the road, I rely on my tour manager and crew, so I’ve brought them up to speed on diabetes and how to recognize any lows,” explained Lilly Diabetes Ambassador and singer/songwriter, Crystal Bowersox. “They may not be typical caregivers, but I’ve made sure they are a part of my support network. In the event of an emergency, they know where I keep my rescue treatment and how to use it.”
“Whether you’re at home or on-the-go, always keep low blood sugar supplies, including fast-acting carbohydrates and a non-expired rescue treatment, close by — whether it’s in a bag, nightstand or pocket,” Dr. Dodell said. For more information and resources, including a doctor discussion guide and low blood sugar tip list, visit KnowBeforeTheLow.com.