Appetite for Life


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What is hypoglycaemia?

Hypoglycaemia is when your blood glucose (sugar) level has dropped too low (below 4 mmol/L). Hypoglycaemia might also be called low blood glucose levels, low blood sugar or a ‘hypo’.

Hypoglycaemia can happen in people who take insulin or diabetes tablets. It is uncommon in people who manage their type 2 diabetes through lifestyle alone.

What can cause hypoglycaemia?

  • Delaying or missing a meal or snack.
  • Not eating enough carbohydrate foods (such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes).
  • Taking too much insulin or diabetes tablets compared with the amount of carbohydrate eaten.
  • Increased exercise.
  • Drinking alcohol (especially on an empty stomach).
  • Vomiting.

Symptoms of hypoglycaemia

  • Feeling irritable, faint, dizzy or sweaty.
  • Hunger.
  • Weakness, trembling or shaking (including numbness of the lips and fingers).
  • Headache, blurry eyes or lack of coordination.

These symptoms can get progressively worse if hypoglycaemia is not treated.

Symptoms of advanced hypoglycaemia include:

  • Confusion and inability to follow instructions.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Seizures.

How to treat hypoglycaemia?

Step one: Have some 'quick acting carbohydrate'

One of the following is a suitable serve:

  • A small glass of juice
  • Six to seven jelly beans
  • Three teaspoons of sugar
  • Half a can or small glass of soft drink
  • A glucose tablet or gel equivalent to 15g of carbohydrate is also a suitable serve.

Note: Never place food or drink in the mouth of an unconscious person.

Step two: wait 10 – 15 minutes and check your blood glucose levels.
  • If your blood glucose level is not rising, repeat step one.
Step three: once your blood glucose level is more than 4.0mmol/L, have a meal or snack that includes ‘longer acting carbohydrate’.

One of the following is a suitable serve of longer acting carbohydrate:

  • A tub of yoghurt
  • A glass of milk
  • A sandwich
  • A banana

This general advice was accurate at the time of publication (June 2020). For more information about nutrition and your individual needs, see your GP, an Accredited Practising Dietitian or diabetes educator.