Guidelines for Treating Hypoglycemia
What is hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia is when a person has low blood sugar. Blood sugar is low when it falls below 70
mg/dl. Some people may experience symptoms of hypoglycemia at blood sugar levels greater
than 70 mg/dl.
How would I know if my blood sugar is low?
Symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) include:
ξ Becoming shaky
ξ Feeling hungry
ξ Headache or light-headed
ξ Irritable or crabby
If a person does not treat their hypoglycemia their blood sugar will fall lower and they may
ξ Very tired
ξ Unconscious (pass out)
How can my blood sugar go too low?
Hypoglycemia can happen when a person is taking oral medicine or insulin to lower the blood
sugar and treat their diabetes. Blood sugars can go too low when a person:
ξ Takes too much insulin
ξ Exercises without eating
ξ Drinks alcohol
ξ Does not eat enough food
ξ Eats a meal later than usual
ξ Skips a meal
How do I treat low blood sugar?
Do not wait to treat low blood sugar. If you feel your blood sugar is low you need to treat it as
soon as you can. Start by checking your blood sugar. If you feel low and are not able to check
your blood sugar quickly, treat the low blood sugar anyway. It is better to have your blood sugar
go a little high than to have it go too low.
You will want to treat your low blood sugar by eating or drinking something that contains fast-
acting sugar with 15 grams of total carbohydrate per serving. 15 grams of carbohydrate will
raise your blood sugar 50-60 mg/dl in 10-15 minutes.
Good choices of 15 grams of carbohydrates are:
ξ ½ cup apple juice
ξ ½ cup orange juice
ξ 5 Lifesavers®
ξ 2 pieces of hard candy
ξ 1 cup low-fat milk
ξ 1 Tablespoon honey
ξ 2 Tablespoons raisins
ξ ½ cup regular gelatin
ξ 6 sugar cubes
ξ 1 Tablespoon syrup
ξ 3- 4 glucose tablets
ξ ½ (80 gram) glucose bottle
ξ ½ (31 gram) instant glucose tube
Glucose tablets, instant glucose bottles and tubes can be purchased at your local drug store.
After eating or drinking the fast-acting carbohydrate, wait 10 to 15 minutes and re-check your
If you still feel your blood sugar is low, or if your blood sugar is still below 70mg/dL, repeat the
steps above. Try eating another 15 grams of carbohydrate until your blood sugar is higher than
100 mg/dl, or you feel better.
Try to eat a well-balanced meal with a source of slow-acting carbohydrate (whole grains) and
lean protein (chicken, fish, eggs, or low-fat dairy) within the next hour.
If your next meal is more than an hour away choose a healthy snack with a source of slow-acting
carbohydrate (whole grains) and lean protein.
Healthy snack options include:
ξ 1 cup low-fat milk
ξ Light yogurt
ξ ½ sandwich on wheat bread
ξ 6 Wheat crackers with 1oz cheese
ξ Apple and 1 Tablespoon peanut
Foods used in treating low blood sugar are extra foods that are not part of your meal plan. Foods
used to treat low blood sugars should not be viewed as “treats.” Chocolate candy is not a good
choice because it will not produce a rapid rise in your blood sugar.
If you have low blood sugars often, think about why this may be happening. Ask yourself:
ξ Am I skipping meals and/or snacks?
ξ Am I counting carbohydrates correctly?
ξ Am I giving myself too much insulin, or taking my medicines incorrectly?
ξ Am I exercising without knowing my blood sugar?
If you have trouble figuring out why, be sure to ask your healthcare provider who may be able to
How do I prevent low blood sugars?
Prevent your blood sugar from going too low by:
ξ Eating meals at about the same time each day. Do not skip meals.
ξ Taking the correct amount of insulin or diabetes oral medicines.
ξ Eating a snack before exercise and before driving long distances (if you have not had a
meal for 2-3 hours).
ξ Knowing when your insulin will peak.
ξ Always carrying a form of fast-acting sugar to treat low blood sugar.
If a person with diabetes becomes unconscious or is not able to swallow, give him or her
glucagon rather than trying to make him or her eat or drink. Glucagon is a shot given into a large
muscle. It will increase the blood sugar levels in the body.
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions, please contact UW Health at one of the
sites listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s
Hospital (AFCH) can be reached at: (608) 890-5500.
Nutrition clinics for UW Medical Foundation (UWMF) can be reached at: (608) 287-2770.
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #591
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 2/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Clinical Nutrition Services Department and the Department
of Nursing. HF#259