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5 Ways To Help Someone Experiencing Hypoglycemia

what to do for hypoglycemia

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is when the sugar in blood falls below an individual’s healthy levels. As a friend or loved one of a person living with diabetes, you can help by being prepared to help manage or treat hypoglycemia when it happens.

Sometimes the cause of hypoglycemia can be obvious: too much insulin, too little food, delayed meals or snacks after taking insulin, physical activity, illness, or medications. Other times, it seems to creep up for no apparent reason.

Low blood sugar is considered low when blood glucose (BG) is less than 70 mg/dL. It is important to note that it is not unusual for some people with diabetes to experience symptoms of low blood sugar lower or even higher than 70 mg/dl – it can vary based on the individual. Anticipating low blood sugar can be challenging, so we’ve gathered five tips that can help you be prepared the next time someone needs you.


1. Ask questions

It’s easier to talk about emergencies and other events when you’re removed from the situation. Pick a relaxing time when your loved one is feeling good to answer questions about their experience with hypoglycemia. For example, what does a low feel like for them? Some people may exhibit no warning signs at all. It’s best to work together so you have a plan for lows that happen suddenly.

2. Know the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia

Everyone’s signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia can be different. They may range from mild symptoms to more severe. Here is the American Diabetes Association’s list of common signs and symptoms to look for:

  • Shakiness
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Sweating, chills, clamminess
  • Irritability or impatience
  • Confusion
  • Rapid/fast heartbeat
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Weakness, fatigue, and sleepiness
  • Mood swings and bizarre behavior
  • Hunger and nausea
  • Paleness
  • Blurred/impaired vision
  • Headaches
  • Loss of concentration
  • Tingling or numbness in the lips or tongue
  • Lack of coordination, clumsiness
  • Nightmares or crying out during sleep
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness


3. Check blood sugar

There’s no harm in asking your loved one to check their blood sugar if their behavior seems off. It’s better to play it safe. It’s important to be stern, but not forceful, as your loved one may not be able to process information as well during an episode of low blood sugar.

4. Treat with the rule of 15

When someone with diabetes has a low blood glucose reading but is still conscious, provide them with 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates. After 15 minutes, have your loved one recheck their BG. If they’re still low, repeat the process.

Don’t worry if it’s close to a mealtime because it’s a treatment – not a snack. You can always factor in excess carbs later. If you don’t already know, ask your loved one what kind of foods they like that can help treat a low. For instance, you wouldn’t want to give someone grapefruit juice if they can’t stand the taste. It’s best to find out and have appropriate options available.

Here are some examples of fast-acting carbs:

  • Three to four glucose tablets or one gel
  • 4 ounces of fruit juice
  • 6 ounces of regular soda
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of table sugar
  • One packet of fruit snacks (gummies)

5. Be prepared to handle a hypoglycemia-related emergency

No one likes to think about their loved one becoming unconscious due to low blood sugar, but you need to be prepared for this possibility. If someone has such severe hypoglycemia that they lose consciousness or cannot eat or drink without assistance, do not try to force feed them.

Call 911, and if you have been trained to do so, administer glucagon.

Glucagon, a hormone that raises blood glucose levels, treats severe hypoglycemia when a patient is unresponsive. It is usually delivered through an injection into the muscle or a nasal powder. Talk to your loved one about whether they have a prescription for glucagon. Learn how to access, use, and administer it. Check glucagon kits expiration dates regularly and do not administer if it’s expired, discolored, or in the case of mixed injections, does not dissolve well.

During a calmer time, you may consider getting a few close friends or family members together to practice using expired glucagon to learn what to do without actually administering it to a person. If you don’t have an expired glucagon injection kit, you can also practice the steps using a mixture of water and powder.

Learning how to administer injectable glucagon may prove lifesaving. Be aware that glucagon may cause vomiting, so take proper precautions if your loved one with diabetes is prone to nausea.

Have any questions or tips? Share them in the comments below!


[Originally published 2014-08-08. Updated 2023-03-01]

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