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Gestational Diabetes: Dealing With Low Blood Sugar


What is an Actionset?

Women who take insulin shots or take the medicine glyburide are at risk for low blood sugar levels. Most women with gestational diabetes do not have problems with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). If your blood sugar (glucose) drops very low, make sure to get treated immediately so that neither you nor your baby is harmed.

  • Low blood sugar occurs when the sugar level in the blood drops below what the body needs to function normally. Women who take insulin may get low blood sugar if they don't eat enough food, skip meals, exercise more than usual, or take too much insulin.
  • These steps can help you avoid a life-threatening emergency from low blood sugar:
    • Test your blood sugar often so that you don't have to guess when your blood sugar is low.
    • Know the signs of low blood sugar, such as sweating, shakiness, hunger, blurred vision, and dizziness.
    • The best treatment for low blood sugar is to eat quick-sugar foods. Liquids will raise your blood sugar faster than solid foods. Keep the list of quick-sugar foods in a convenient place. Wait 10 to 15 minutes after eating the quick-sugar food, and, if possible, check your blood sugar again.
    • Keep some hard candy, raisins, or other sugary foods with you at all times. Eat some at the first sign of low blood sugar.
    • Check your blood sugar before getting in a car. And don't drive if your blood sugar level is less than 70 mg/dL.
    • Teach your friends and coworkers what to do if your blood sugar is very low.

Low blood sugar means that the level of sugar in your blood has dropped below what your body needs to function normally.

Most women with gestational diabetes do not have problems with low blood sugar. But if your blood sugar does drop, it can do so quickly (within 10 to 15 minutes). This usually happens 1 to 2 hours after you have had a shot of fast-acting insulin. Low blood sugar can occur if you:

  • Skip or delay a meal or snack.
  • Exercise too much without eating enough food.
  • Drink alcohol, especially on an empty stomach. No amount of alcohol is safe to drink while you are pregnant.
  • Take too much insulin.
  • Take medicines that can affect your blood sugar levels. Before you take any new medicines (including aspirin and ibuprofen) or nutritional supplements, talk with your doctor about the medicines you are taking.

Even if your blood sugar level reading is normal, you may have symptoms of low blood sugar if your level is suddenly lower than usual. For example, if your blood sugar level has been more than 200 mg/dL for a week and the level drops suddenly to 70 mg/dL, you may have symptoms of low blood sugar.

Test Your Knowledge

Low blood sugar means that the level of sugar in the blood has dropped below what the body needs to function normally.

True
False

Low blood sugar can develop because I have:

Exercised more than usual, not eaten enough food, or taken too much insulin.
Not slept enough, eaten too much candy, or watched TV all day.

There are three types of low blood sugar: mild, moderate, and severe. If your blood sugar level falls below 55 mg/dL, your body reacts in the same way it does when you feel very afraid, angry, or anxious. These symptoms of mild low blood sugar often last for only a short time if you eat food that contains sugar, which causes the blood sugar level to rise. An emergency is not likely to develop, and you and your baby will not have any long-lasting effects.

Do not drive a car or operate other machinery if you think that your blood sugar is low. You could harm yourself or someone else. Check your blood sugar before driving. Do not drive if your blood sugar level is less than 70 mg/dL.

If your blood sugar continues to drop (below 40 mg/dL), your brain may receive too little sugar to work well. Problems with judgment and muscle coordination are symptoms of moderate low blood sugar.

If your blood sugar drops below 20 mg/dL (severe low blood sugar), you could have a seizure or stop breathing, possibly harming your baby. You could also fall into a coma, have a stroke, or possibly die.

Test Your Knowledge

If my blood sugar level drops very low (below 20 mg/dL):

I can fall into a coma and possibly die.
I will act like I am okay.
I will be able to eat or drink something to raise it.

Here are some ways you can prevent and manage low blood sugar emergencies.

Be prepared

Although most women with gestational diabetes do not have problems with low blood sugar, you should always be prepared for the possibility.

  • Keep some quick-sugar foods with you at all times. If you are at home, you will probably already have something close at hand that contains sugar, such as table sugar or fruit juice. Carry some hard candy or glucose tablets with you when you are away from home.
  • Learn the symptoms of low blood sugar, such as sweating, blurred vision, and confusion. Carry a list of the symptoms with you at all times, and post the list at home and work.
  • Wear medical identificationClick here to see an illustration. in case your blood sugar drops very low and you need help. Medical identification bracelets and necklaces are sold at many local drugstores and pharmacies.
  • Keep a copy of instructions on how to use your blood sugar meter with the meter. Tell your family and friends where the instructions are and how to use your meter to check your blood sugar.
  • Post information on emergency care for low blood sugar in a convenient place at home and at work for other people to use if you need help during a low blood sugar episode.
  • Do not drive if your blood sugar is less than 70 mg/dL. Your reflexes are slowed, and you could have an accident.

Treat low blood sugar early

Treat low blood sugar levels as soon as the symptoms are noticed, whether by you or by someone else.

  • Check your blood sugar often.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions for dealing with low blood sugar when your blood sugar level is below 70 mg/dL.
  • Keep track of your symptoms and how you treated them in a low blood sugar level recordClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?).
  • Talk with your doctor if you have low blood sugar. If you are taking insulin, your dose may need to be adjusted.

Test Your Knowledge

To be prepared for a low blood sugar emergency, I need to carry:

My insulin.
Some quick-sugar foods.
A protein bar.

If my blood sugar level is 50 mg/dL, I need to:

Call my doctor immediately.
Go to sleep and rest.
Follow the steps for dealing with low blood sugar.

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to prevent and treat low blood sugar levels effectively.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor.

More information about diabetes can be found in these topics:

Return to topic:

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last RevisedNovember 3, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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