Be prepared for hypoglycemia

Individuals living with diabetes who use insulin injections or take certain oral antidiabetic drugs know that they must watch out for hypoglycemia. The latter can have serious consequences and require hospitalization.

What is hypoglycemia?

Diabetes is a disease which is characterized by an increase of sugar levels in the blood, called hyperglycemia. It is responsible for the damage that causes health problems for diabetics. Therefore, diabetes treatment consists of lowering blood glucose to health levels. Several strategies can be used to achieve this, including the use of oral or injectable drugs, such as insulin. Insulin as well as other antidiabetics can sometimes cause hypoglycemic episodes. We speak of hypoglycemia when blood glucose is abnormally low, usually under 4.0 mmol/L.

When it isn’t well controlled, hypoglycemia can become dangerous. Fortunately, it’s possible to prevent it and limit its consequences by being well-informed and ready to deal with it.

How to recognize hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia can sometimes go unnoticed, especially when it occurs during the night. One of the best ways to fight its negative effects is to know how to recognize the signs and symptoms. They may include the following:

  • nervousness
  • shaking
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • sweating
  • confusion, and
  • difficulty speaking

In the most severe cases, hypoglycemia may lead to loss of consciousness and even coma.

If you think you recognize signs or symptoms of hypoglycemia, you must test your blood glucose quickly using your blood glucose meter. A source of glucose must be ingested promptly to help bring your blood glucose back up. Make sure you always have products containing glucose at hand, such as the ones by Dex4. Pharmacists can tell you exactly what to do when you have a hypoglycemic episode. Establish an action plan with them.

Who’s at risk of hypoglycemia and what are its causes?

Individuals with diabetes are not all at risk of hypoglycemia. Those who use insulin or drugs that increase insulin production present a higher risk. It’s especially important for them to know the risk factors of hypoglycemia.

For example:

  • skipping a meal or snack
  • physical activity, especially if it’s intense
  • insulin or a surplus of drugs that increase insulin levels
  • alcohol consumption on an empty stomach
  • taking certain drugs to treat other health problems

Why is it important to closely monitor blood glucose?

Blood glucose levels greatly vary from one hour to the next and from one day to the next due to a number of factors. So, the key to successfully managing diabetes is to closely monitor blood glucose. It’s crucial that you be aware of blood glucose fluctuations so you can react quickly if there’s an imbalance. Choose a blood glucose meter that is right for you and that you’ll use every day. You can detect hypoglycemia by using your meter regularly and when you feel symptoms or think you may be at risk. Remember to determine with a health professional when and how often you should measure your blood glucose.

It’s important to choose an accurate blood glucose meter. You can choose a device that can detect blood glucose trends and identify hypoglycemia such as the CONTOUR® USB meter by Bayer. It can be connected to a computer USB port and help transform your results into relevant data that you and your health professional can use to better control your diabetes.

A few tips

If you live with diabetes and use drugs that can cause hypoglycemia, such as insulin, here are a few tips:

  • Maintain a balanced diet. Follow your nutritional plan by avoiding to skip meals or snacks. Choose healthy snacks. Have one when you do vigorous physical activity.
  • As a snack, you can take food supplements specially formulated for diabetics, such as products by Glucerna® and Nutribar Type 2 Brand. Available in various forms and in a variety of flavours, these delicious products are ready-to-eat and practical, especially when you want to eat-on-the-go. They are balanced and formulated to meet Canadian Diabetes Association nutritional guidelines. They release glucose gradually similar to foods made of protein and carbohydrates. When you eat them, you prevent hypoglycemia without the risk of a hyperglycemic episode.
  • Make sure you always eat something before consuming alcohol.
  • Don’t adjust your medication without first getting approval from your health professional and be sure to follow the prescribed treatment to the letter.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medication or natural health product. Some of them may have an effect on blood glucose.
  • Make sure you know what to do in the event of hypoglycemia. If needed, ask your pharmacist or diabetes health specialist for advice.
  • Let your family and friends know about your condition so they can help you in the event of hypoglycemia.
  • Wear a medical bracelet or necklace such as MedicAlert or use any other medical identification system that clearly indicates you have diabetes and/or that you take insulin.

For additional information about the prevention and management of hypoglycemia, talk to your pharmacist.


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Be prepared for hypoglycemia

Individuals living with diabetes who use insulin injections or take certain oral antidiabetic drugs know that they must watch out for hypoglycemia. The latter can have serious consequences and require hospitalization.