Protect Yourself From Blood Sugar Lows

Taking these precautions can help lower your risk.

Rita Ross
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When you have diabetes, a dip in blood sugar levels (from 100 mg/dL to 70 mg/dL) can trigger sudden overwhelming fatigue, anxiety and shakiness. Dips between 50 mg/dL and 70 mg/dL can make you feel dizzy, sweaty and disoriented. At 50 mg/dL or below, you could pass out. Luckily, taking a few situation-specific precautions can lower your risk.

Here's how to stay safe when you're....

...Behind the wheel
Just as you shouldn’t drive when sleepy, if you have diabetes, you shouldn’t hit the road if you’re hungry. In a University of Virginia study of 452 people with diabetes, just over half admitted to having at least one low blood sugar-related mishap on the road during a one-year period. Incidents included feeling disoriented, “zoning out,” being pulled over by police for erratic driving and having to ask a passenger to take the wheel. Five percent of the group said they’d had six or more scary incidents while driving.

To stay safe: Test your blood sugar before you grab the wheel. If it’s not in the target range, treat it, then wait 15 minutes and recheck to make sure you’re good to go. For extra protection, eat a protein-rich snack before you hit the road and tote a few easy-to-eat snacks in case you feel an attack of low blood sugar coming on. Try a small apple or about a quarter cup of trail mix, such as dried fruit and nuts. The apple and dried fruit will boost blood sugar quickly and, together with the nuts, will supply about 10-20 grams of carbohydrates to boost energy. Note: Always keep your diabetes supplies within reach, and pull over as soon as you experience a sign of low blood sugar.

...Hitting the gym
Insulin, oral diabetes medications and physical activity all cause your blood sugar to drop, so talk to your healthcare provider about any adjustments you need to make before exercising. Before you get moving, make sure your blood sugar is in your target range and enjoy a snack. Try a slice of whole-wheat bread topped with a tablespoon of peanut butter, and wash it down with a cup of milk (or substitute the bread with a banana and slather peanut butter on it). Both options offer about 30 grams of carbs, which helps keep blood sugar levels steady.

If you’ll be active for more than an hour, take a break to make sure your blood sugar level is holding steady and have another snack—a granola bar or glass of orange juice, say. And since physical activity can affect your blood sugar for a good 24 hours after you lay down your tennis racquet or your basketball, it’s a good idea to check your glucose frequently during that time period.

Real-life solution! “I always exercise with a friend who knows about my diabetes,” says Francine Criscione, who has type 2 diabetes. “She keeps an eye on me in case I start to feel light-headed.”

April 2013