How to Spot Low Blood Sugar in Your Loved One

Caring for a loved one with diabetes? Find out the signs of low blood sugar and how you can help.

Heather LaBruna
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Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is a common problem faced by people with diabetes. The body relies on blood sugar (glucose) as an energy source. But taking certain diabetes medications, consuming insufficient food and exercising without increasing one's food intake can throw it off balance.

As a caregiver for someone with diabetes, you'd do well to learn the signs of low blood sugar so that you can help your loved one treat the problem quickly when it arises.

How can I spot the symptoms?
Symptoms of low blood sugar vary depending on its severity. On the milder end of the spectrum, your loved one may feel hungry, nauseated, jittery or nervous. Their heart may feel like it’s racing. They may also experience sweating or have cold and clammy-feeling skin.

Moderate low blood sugar can actually cause behavioral changes, making a person fearful, confused or angry. It can also trigger blurry vision, difficulties speaking and problems with balance and walking. If left untreated, severe low blood sugar can occur and cause loss of consciousness, seizures, irreversible brain or heart damage, coma or even death.

Low blood sugar can also happen at night, causing someone to experience nightmares and wake up to find sheets or clothing damp with perspiration.

How can I help?
If you notice the signs, check your loved one’s blood sugar levels with a glucose meter. If readings are below 70 mg/dL, or if you’re unsure about whether the levels are low, take the following steps:

  • Give your loved one a sugary food or drink, such as candy, raisins, pretzels, crackers, regular soda, fruit juice or skim milk. Glucose tablets, which are available over the counter, also stabilize glucose levels. An important thing to remember: A person needs 15 to 20 grams of sugar (for example, 5 to 6 hard candies, ½ cup of juice or soda, 1 tablespoon of sugar dissolved in water or 1 tablespoon of honey) to bring levels back up, and sugary foods that contain a lot of fat (like cookies) don’t work so quickly.
  • Check glucose levels again after 10 to 20 minutes. If they haven’t rebounded, repeat the treatment.
  • If your loved one passes out, get immediate medical attention. Always call 911 if a person becomes unconscious. Never inject insulin or try to give an unconscious person food or drink.
February 2013