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Managing Your Diabetes: Screening, Treatment can Prevent Vision Loss

separator Hypoglycemia, also called low blood sugar, happens when your blood sugar becomes too low. When this occurs, your body doesn’t have enough energy to perform routine activities. 

After you eat a meal, insulin in your body helps carry glucose to your body’s cells. This is what keeps your blood sugar from becoming too high. Glucose is like fuel for your body. The main food sources of glucose are carbohydrates—rice, tortillas, potatoes, bread, cereal, milk, fruit and sweets. 

Being on diabetes meds increases risk of hypoglycemia
If you take insulin and then skip a meal or get more activity than you had expected, the sugar that you would normally have in your bloodstream isn’t there. But the insulin still does its job, carrying glucose to your body’s cells. The danger is that at this point, your blood sugar can become too low. This can also happen if you take other medications to control your blood sugar. 

Symptoms of low blood sugar
Common symptoms of low blood sugar include

  • Nervousness and shakiness
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Perspiration
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Feeling anxious or weak

 Hypoglycemia can also occur during the night when you’re sleeping. If this happens you’ll probably notice that you

  • Cry out and have nightmares
  • Realize that your pajamas or sheets are damp with perspiration
  • Wake up feeling tired, irritable or confused

What to do when your blood sugar goes too low…
If you do become hypoglycemic, it’s important to take action quickly. Test your blood sugar. If it’s 70 mg/dL or lower, have one of the following quick snacks, which will help bring your levels back up:

  • 2 or 3 glucose tablets
  • ½ cup of fruit juice
  • ½ cup of a soft drink—not diet
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 5 or 6 pieces of hard candy
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar or honey

After about 15 minutes, check your blood sugar again. If it’s still too low, have one of the snacks above again. Repeat until your sugar level is at least 70 mg/dL.  

If hypoglycemia becomes severe, you can lose consciousness. Ask your doctor whether you should have what’s called a “glucagon kit” at home and at work. An injection of glucagon can help bring your sugar level back to normal in extreme cases. 

Lower your risk of hypoglycemia
There are several steps you can take to keep your risk of hypoglycemia low: 

  • Meet with a dietitian to design a food plan that takes your lifestyle into account. Do your best to stick with the plan. Don’t skip meals and snacks, and try to eat at about the same times each day.
  • Remember that any unexpected activity can affect your blood sugar. Make sure to talk with your healthcare team about how to adjust your medications when you’re more active than usual.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages, and don’t ever drink them on an empty stomach.

How a Kentucky woman deals with her low blood sugar
Linda Haney has had diabetes for 31 years. She manages it by taking insulin and oral medication, although for the first 20 years she used just insulin. “Then I went to a new doctor and that’s when I started on the oral medication.” 

How often does Linda test her blood sugar? “I would say overall I test every day, anything from 1 to 4 times per day,” she says. She acknowledges that there are days that she’s so busy she does neglect to test. 

According to Linda, hypoglycemia happens “quite a bit, usually because I’ve gotten too busy and more time has passed than I realized and I’ve missed having a meal. Or if I get outside and do more physical work than usual, that really brings the sugar down. If I know in advance that I’ll be doing extra exercise, I modify my insulin,” she says. 

That’s always the challenge with diabetes—knowing in advance what you’re going to be doing and then planning accordingly. 

Linda usually notices when her blood sugar begins to go low. “If I’m not really busy, I notice I’m feeling weak or sweaty,” she says. “But if I’m immersed in the computer and I suddenly snap out of work mode, then I’ll notice that it’s progressed more.” 

Linda lives in Paducah, Kentucky. She works full time in the Lourdes Hospital’s marketing department. “I create ads, brochures, PowerPoint presentations, that kind of thing,” she says. “I’m on the creative side.” Her work is extremely deadline oriented, and that’s why she sometimes loses track of time. 

She’s had some alarming incidents of hypoglycemia over the years. “One day I woke up lying on my kitchen floor and didn’t know how I got there,” she says. “I took care of it myself though. I’m kind of stubborn that way. I don’t like to go to the hospital if I can deal with it on my own. But it probably would have been a good idea to go to the hospital that time.” 

Linda has low blood sugar episodes at night sometimes too. “Sometimes I wake up wet from head to toe,” she says. “One night I woke up screaming. My daughter got me orange juice. She had to force me to drink it, because my brain was so starved for glucose that I didn’t know what was best for me.” 

She’s also had episodes of confusion. “I’ve been where I couldn’t even think how to open up a door. Once I couldn’t think how to turn off the alarm clock.” 

Although Linda has these hypoglycemic episodes from time to time, she hasn’t suffered any of the long-term complications of diabetes. “God has watched over me,” she says. She also has had strong support from her husband. “If I’m at home, he will take care of me. Sometimes he points out that I’m having low blood sugar symptoms.” 

Linda’s advice for others with diabetes
The main thing Linda thinks people with diabetes should know is that it’s extremely important to take care of hypoglycemia right away. “It requires immediate attention,” she says. “You could become unconscious while you’re driving and cause an accident and kill yourself or someone else. The faster you treat yourself,” she says, “the faster you get to feeling better. 

Her advice for people with diabetes who want to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia? 

  • Don’t skip meals
  • Check your blood sugar often
  • If you know you’re going to be exerting yourself, talk with your doctor about how to adjust your medication
  • Don’t ignore your symptoms. Don’t tell yourself, “Oh well, I’ll just finish this and then I’ll take care of it.”


Source:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders; Linda Haney



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