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The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Report on Diabetes 2016 says that the number of diabetics around the world rose four-fold from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million by the year 2014. Diabetes and its complications rank high in the list of risk factors, and causes of death throughout the world.  

Diabetes, also called hyperglycemia, is a chronic condition in which the body's blood sugar levels rise too much. This happens when the pancreas can't make enough insulin or the body stops reacting to the insulin it makes. Insulin helps the body use glucose for various functions, thus keeps the levels of glucose under control. 

 Diabetes can be of two types: 

  • Type-1 diabetes (insulin-dependent): In this type of diabetes, the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans get damaged and thus the pancreas cannot make insulin. 
  • Type-2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent): In this type of diabetes, the body becomes insulin resistant.

But in some cases, the glucose levels in diabetics suddenly drop to less than 70mg/dL. This condition is called hypoglycemia which is mostly seen in a diabetic who has skipped a meal, has indulged in vigorous exercise or taken too much insulin. This is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate treatment or else the person can fall into a diabetic coma. 

Whenever there is a hypoglycemic emergency, the affected person starts getting pale, cold and clammy, sweaty with increased heart rate and pulse rate. The person may be seen trembling, confused and might lose consciousness. Immediate first aid can be given to the person by providing them with glucose-rich foods and beverages such as juices, bread, biscuits and honey.

  1. Symptoms of low blood sugar
  2. Causes of sudden low blood sugar
  3. First aid for low blood sugar
  4. When to take someone with low blood sugar to a hospital

The incidents of hypoglycemic emergency occur more commonly than a hyperglycemic emergency. In a hypoglycemic emergency, the blood glucose level falls below 70 mg/dL. A person with low blood sugar levels may present with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Feeling cold all of a sudden
  • Trembling and shaking of hands
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Fast and weak breathing
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Persistent headache
  • State of confusion
  • Person appears intoxicated
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting 
  • Feeling hungry 
  • Sudden irrational behaviour
  • Worsening level of response to any stimulus
  • Starts having seizures

There can be many reasons for low blood sugar levels in a diabetic, some of them are: 

  • Intake of too much insulin can reduce the levels of glucose in the body to extremely low levels which can be fatal for the person. 
  • Skipping meals or not eating enough nutritious foods can reduce the levels of glucose in the body.
  • If a diabetic person engages in vigorous physical activity, their blood glucose levels may fall as a result of increased calorie expenditure.
  • Diabetic people living in a cold environment may require more energy to keep their body warm; this allows their body to spend more glucose at a faster pace. 
  • Drinking alcohol in excess can reduce the glucose in the body to a dangerously low level.

A hypoglycemic emergency is a life-threatening condition and can be fatal as well. The following first aid can be given to people with low blood sugar:

  • Do not give them insulin as this would further reduce the levels of blood sugar.
  • Make the person sit down in a comfortable place and give them a sugary drink or glucose-rich sweets.
  • You can provide them with juices such as apple juice or orange juice.
  • You can give them biscuits and bread to increase their blood sugar levels. You can also add jam to the bread.
  • Give them carbonated drinks (not the diet ones) and wait for 10 minutes until they start feeling better. 
  • If you don’t have anything sweet around you, take some sugar in a glass and mix it with some water and give it to the diabetic person. 

If the person does not feel better within 10 minutes or if their symptoms start getting worse, call for medical help. If the person loses consciousness but is breathing normally, just put them into the recovery position and call medical help. 

Follow these steps to put the person in the recovery position:

  • Lay the person down on their back and sit beside them.
  • Straighten the arms and legs of the person.
  • Now fold the person’s right arm over their chest and place the left one at a right angle to their body.
  • Now hold their right leg and bend it from the knee.
  • While supporting the head and neck of the person, roll the person towards their left side.  
  • Adjust the upper leg of the person in such a way that both their hip and knee are bent at right angles.
  • Now tilt their head back and make sure that their airway is clear and open.

If the person stops breathing, resuscitate them via cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Do not give them CPR if you are not certified.

Do not force-feed anything to an unconscious person. Do not give the unconscious person insulin as it can kill them at this point.

First try to manage the low blood sugar levels by one of the above-mentioned methods like giving the patient glucose-rich drinks, sweets or fruit juices.

In some cases, however, you may have to take medical help. You must take the person to a medical centre in the following cases:

  • If the person does not have diabetes but has had frequent episodes of low blood sugar in the body
  • The blood sugar does not rise even after consuming sugary foods and beverages
  • The blood sugar levels are dropping frequently after taking diabetes medications
  • The person has lost consciousness and is not breathing
  • The person is having seizures (fits)
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