What is hypoglycaemia?
Hypoglycaemia, which is also known as a ‘hypo’ or ‘low’, is where your blood glucose levels drop below 4 millimoles per litre (mmol/L). It is more common in those with type 1, but people with type 2 may also experience hypos from time to time. If your levels drop below 5mmol/L, Diabetes Australia recommends that you avoid driving and/or operating heavy machinery, as your ability to concentrate will be impaired.
What causes hypos?
Hypos are typically triggered by:
- Missing or delaying meals
- Eating meals with less carbohydrates than you usually have
- Being more active than usual
- Having too much insulin
- Drinking alcohol
What are the warning signs?
Although the symptoms of a hypo vary from one person to the next, you may experience some or all of the following when your blood glucose levels drop too low:
- Weakness, dizziness, trembling or shaking
- Inability to concentrate
- Crying or irritability
- Numbness in your lips or fingers
How should I treat them?
If you experience any of the common hypo symptoms, check your blood glucose level to confirm it’s low. Don’t have your meter handy? Assume it’s a hypo and treat it anyway.
Hypos should be treated immediately with food or drink that contains around 15g (one serve) of easily-absorbed carbohydrate, such as:
- 3 tsp of honey
- 6-7 jellybeans
- 150-200ml of regular soft drink (diet varieties don’t contain sugar, and won’t raise your blood glucose levels effectively)
- 150ml of orange juice
If you don’t treat hypos, your blood glucose levels can continue to drop, resulting in confusion, loss of coordination and, in extreme cases, coma. Keep hypo treatments like these on you at all times so that you don’t get caught out!
How can I prevent them?
You can reduce the risk of a hypo by eating regularly and avoiding missing or delaying meals. Eating a similar amount of carbohydrate at each meal from day to day (unless you have been taught to adjust your insulin according to what you eat) can help, too, as can having extra carbohydrate before exercise, as well as drinking alcohol in moderation and always with food. It’s also vital to monitor your blood glucose levels regularly. This is especially important before driving or while exercising, as physical activity can cause your blood glucose levels to drop.
Home alone with a hypo?
If you live alone and have a severe hypo – where you’re in danger of losing consciousness – call a friend, family member or neighbour who can get to you quickly or who can stay on the phone with you until you’ve recovered. If that option isn’t available, call an ambulance. Even if it turns out to be a false alarm, it’s better than the alternative of losing consciousness without help close by.