Low Blood Sugar, Insulin and the 15/15 Rule
If you’re a diabetic, especially one taking insulin, one of the most important things you need to know is how to handle a low blood sugar event.
Now, what do I mean by a low blood sugar event? For insulin dependent diabetics, it typically means that you’ve taken too much insulin and/or not eaten enough carbs to maintain your blood sugar levels near normal or above. When you have one of these events, your blood sugars can drop dangerously low and you need to get some sugar into your system asap.
These events can happen quite suddenly and most of the time you should feel them coming on very clearly…your heart will sound the alarm that your blood sugars are falling rapidly by beating like a drum. You may start sweating profusely and some folks actually pass out when blood sugars drop too low. So, it’s important to have a plan for how to deal with these events so that you can get sugar into your system as quickly as possible.
From my experience, low blood sugar events can mean different readings for different people to some degree. For example, when I had my very first low blood sugar event, my blood sugar reading was 35! I’d just started taking insulin, it was the middle of the night and my pounding heart woke me up. I made my way to the kitchen with the most ravenous hunger I’d ever experienced. I managed to get the cereal, milk and sugar out and actually ate 8 bowls of raisin bran cereal in one sitting…that’s how hungry I was. Of course, as my body digested all those carbs, my blood sugar level soared in the other direction and I then had to take more insulin to bring them down near normal again. This roller coaster can leave you feeling exhausted and it can take up to a few hours for some to start feeling normal again.
To complete how that scenario can change, after years of being on insulin now, when I sense a low blood sugar event coming on, I will have a sip or two of orange juice or eat a small box of raisins all of which usually keeps my blood sugars from soaring too high.
The 15/15 Rule:
The American Association of Diabetes Educators has a nifty suggestion/rule for dealing with these low blood sugar events and it’s called the 15/15 Rule. When you start experiencing a low blood sugar event, immediately take your blood sugar reading and then take 15 grams of a fast acting sugar. Wait 15 minutes and take your blood sugar reading again. If your blood sugar reading has started to go up you may be good to go (meaning you’ve managed the event successfully and your blood sugar level should now be ok) but if the reading hasn’t started going up, take another 15 grams of fast acting sugar, wait 15 minutes and then take your reading again to make sure that your blood sugars are now going up towards normal.
There are a number of different sugars/foods recommended for handling low blood sugar events: dextrose tablets found at most pharmacies can be handy to carry around with you. There’s also a fast acting glucose gel that you can find sometimes as well. While raisins aren’t the healthiest choice, I carry small boxes of them in my purse at all times. I also keep them in my nightstand for those night time sugar lows.
The point here is to be prepared to always make sure you have a quick, fast acting source of glucose (sugar) readily available.