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Your heart is racing, your head aches, you feel shaky, and you’re in a cold sweat. Your blood glucose is dropping to a dangerously low level and you’re feeling the effects. With diabetes, it’s essential to always be ready for hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose. Being ready could save your life!

Fact Sheet

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When blood glucose drops, it can lead to hypoglycemia very quickly. Many things can cause blood glucose levels to fall. Most cases involve people with diabetes who take insulin or certain other medicines, such as sulfonylureas. Other instances include:

  • Taking too much diabetes medicines
  • Taking diabetes medicine and not eating
  • Eating less than usual or skipping a meal
  • Drinking alcohol

Blood glucose levels can change unexpectedly. Follow these 9 steps to be prepared.

Step 1. Know what symptoms to watch for.
In the earliest stage of hypoglycemia, you may have a headache, clammy skin, sweating, or a pounding heartbeat. As your blood glucose drops lower, you may start feeling sleepy or irritable. Others may notice that you seem confused or slur your words.

By the time you reach the severe stage, you may have a seizure or become unconscious. A family member, friend, or bystander may need to step in and assist you.

Step 2. Keep glucose test supplies ready.
If you suspect that your blood glucose is low, check it to confirm. Then recheck it after treating hypoglycemia to make sure the treatment worked. You’ll need supplies such as:

  • Glucose meter
  • Extra batteries for the meter
  • Alcohol pads 
  • Finger lancets
  • Test strips 

Step 3. Have a fast-acting sugar on hand.
At the first sign of hypoglycemia, consume 15 grams of a fast-acting sugar source. This helps raise your blood glucose to a safe level quickly. Examples include:

  • 3 glucose tablets (5 grams each)
  • 5 to 6 pieces of hard candy 
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins 
  • 1/2 cup of orange juice 
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of regular (not diet) 

Step 4. Fill your glucagon prescription.
Once your hypoglycemia is severe, you may not be able to safely swallow a fast-acting sugar source. At this point, you need treatment with emergency glucagon. If your doctor prescribes glucagon, be sure to fill the prescription. Note the expiration date and put a refill reminder on your calendar.

Step 5. Learn how to use your glucagon.
Glucagon comes in different forms. Most often, it’s given by injection. Some glucagon injections require mixing a powder with saline (salt water). Others come in a prefilled, premixed syringe. There is also a glucagon nasal powder that is sprayed into the nose. Ask your healthcare provider to explain how to use your glucagon properly. Keep written directions handy.

Step 6. Prepare your family and friends.
If you develop severe hypoglycemia, someone else will likely need to give you the glucagon. Urge family members, roommates, and friends to learn how to do that. They should also know when to call 911; for example, if you do not awake fully after receiving glucagon.

  • Glucose meter and testing supplies
  • Fast-acting sugar source
  • Glucagon and instructions 
  • Emergency contact numbers 

Step 8. Wear medical identification.
What happens if you lose consciousness when your usual helpers aren’t around? A medical alert bracelet or necklace can let others know that you have diabetes. This helps you get the proper emergency care in a timely manner.

Step 9. Stay on top of your diabetes.
Check your blood glucose regularly. Ask your healthcare provider when and how often to do it. If your numbers are often below your target range, let your provider know. When needed, your provider can suggest changes in your eating plan, exercise, or medicine.

View or Download the Be Prepared for Hypoglycemia Infographic

View or Download the Hypoglycemia Preparation Handout⭳

Last Updated:

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The Hormone Health Network is the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society dedicated to helping both patients and doctors find information on the prevention, treatment and cure of hormone-related conditions.

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