How to Treat Hypoglycemia

Q: Several times a day I get very shaky and light-headed. I usually grab a glass of orange juice and some peanut butter crackers. This helps, but what else can I do?

A: It sounds like you're having low blood glucose reactions (hypoglycemia).

Plasma glucose levels lower than approximately 70 mg/dl can be defined as hypoglycemia. Common symptoms include these:

  • sweating

  • a pounding heart

  • a fast pulse

  • hunger

  • weakness

  • headache

  • a general sense of something not feeling right

Some behaviors that increase the risk of hypoglycemia are these:

  • too much medication or insulin

  • skipping or delaying meals

  • not eating enough carbohydrates at a meal

  • increasing physical activity without adjusting carbohydrate intake

To help prevent hypoglycemia, do not skip or delay meals, and make sure you eat the planned-for carbohydrates in your meals and snacks. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you need to adjust your medication or eat additional carbohydrates for physical activity.

To treat hypoglycemia, raise your blood glucose level quickly by eating or drinking something that contain 15 grams of glucose or carbohydrates containing glucose. The following are a few good options:

  • 4 to 6 ounces of fruit juice

  • 3 to 4 glucose tablets

  • 3 to 5 peppermint hard candies

  • 8 to 10 small flavored Life Savers candies

  • 4 to 6 ounces of a regular soft drink

Hypoglycemia is very serious and shouldn't be taken lightly. Occasional episodes can happen with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and can be treated with foods that provide carbohydrates. Frequent episodes can cause long-term damage and hypoglycemia unawareness, in which you don't recognize you're having a reaction and can lose consciousness. Review your diabetes management with your health-care providers to make sure you're balancing food, exercise, and medication properly.

Jeannette Jordan, M.S., R.D., CDE, is the American Dietetic Association's national spokesperson for African-American nutrition issues and oversees nutrition education at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Madhu Gadia, M.S., R.D., is a certified diabetes educator.