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Hypoglycaemia

If you take insulin to manage your diabetes, you may be at risk of hypoglycaemia (a hypo) or low blood glucose levels.

A hypo occurs when blood glucose levels fall below 4mmol/L. It is important to treat hypos quickly to stop blood glucose level from falling even lower.

A hypo can be caused by:

  • delaying or missing a meal
  • not eating enough carbohydrate
  • unplanned physical activity
  • more strenuous exercise than usual
  • too much insulin.

In some cases it can be difficult to identify why a hypo has occurred.

Read more in our fact sheet Managing hypoglycaemia.

Occasionally, you may experience severe hypos. This is when you can’t treat a hypo yourself and need help from someone else. It is important for your partner, carer, family and friends to know how to recognise and treat hypos.

Hypo symptoms

Symptoms of a hypo can vary from person to person. They may include weakness, trembling or shaking, sweating, light-headedness, headaches, lack of concentration, dizziness, irritability or tearfulness, hunger, numbness around the lips and fingers, and palpitations.

Treating hypos

It’s important to treat a hypo quickly to stop your blood glucose levels from falling even lower. Untreated hypos can be dangerous and can put you at risk of becoming unconscious.

Have some easily absorbed carbohydrate, for example:

  • glucose tablets equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrate OR
  • 6–7 jellybeans OR
  • ½ a can of regular soft drink (not ‘diet’) OR
  • 3 teaspoons of sugar or honey OR
  • ½ a glass of fruit juice.

If possible, check your blood glucose levels again to make sure they have risen above 4mmol/L. It may take 10–15 minutes for this to happen. If your symptoms persist, or if your blood glucose levels are still below 4 mmol/L, repeat the treatment.

If your next meal is more than 20 minutes away, you will need to eat some additional carbohydrate. This could be one of the following:

  • a slice of bread OR
  • 1 glass of milk or soy milk OR
  • 1 piece of fruit OR
  • 1 small tub of yoghurt.

Frequent blood glucose monitoring can help you reduce the risk of hypos.

Driving

You also need to remember to check that your blood glucose levels are above 5mmol/L before driving. For more information, refer to the Diabetes and driving booklet.