What Can You Do to Bring Your Blood Sugar Down Quickly?

Ask a Doctor

My son’s wife is diabetic, and they’re planning a backwoods camping and hiking trip that will last 16 days. They’ve never done anything like this before, and I worry about them. I trust my daughter-in-law to take all the necessary precautions, but what if something happens and she loses her insulin on the trail? What is the first aid for a diabetic emergency? What can you do to bring your blood sugar down quickly?

Doctor’s Response

When you have diabetes, your blood sugar may spike for a number of reasons, including eating a heavy meal, not taking medication as directed, lack of exercise, illness, or stress.

The fastest way to bring down your blood sugar (glucose) levels is to take insulin, but this should only be done as prescribed by a doctor. The next quickest way to lower blood sugar is to exercise. But if your blood glucose is above 240 mg/dl, you should check your urine for ketones. If ketones are present, exercise may not be recommended.

Reducing the amount of food you eat at mealtime may also help. A doctor or dietician can make recommendations if changes in your diet or meal plan could help.

As medical science has advanced, there has become a big push to get tighter and tighter control of blood sugar levels. The highs and lows needed to be smoothed out to get as close to normal physiology as possible. This has become the mantra for diabetic care. Just like an elite athlete who is always training, the person with diabetes always needs to be working to maintain normal blood sugar levels. This is a relatively new concept. Not so long ago, the hope was that one insulin injection a day would be enough to return those with diabetes to their normal state. Blood sugars were allowed to fluctuate over a wide range, and patients and their doctors were comfortable with the trade-off. Once or twice a day shots didn't affect lifestyle. But just having "OK" control of blood sugar levels wasn't "OK".

Research showed that blood sugars should be kept within a tight range of normal, and technology should adapt to make that happen. Smaller glucose meters were developed. Insulin pumps became more routinely used. Children with diabetes weren't ostracized; they too could do what they wanted and their friends took the needles and blood tests in stride.

There are no days off. Diet, exercise, and medication need to be optimized every day to maintain body performance, avoid the complications of diabetes, and prolong a long and healthy life. The difference is that the reward for all this work comes later. An athlete will be cheered every day on the field. The individual with diabetes gets to cheer thirty years later playing with grandchildren.

For more information, read our full medical article on diabetes.

Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM coauthored this article.


American Diabetes Association. Hyperglycemia (High Blood Glucose). 7 December 2018. 2 January 2019 .

Christy L. Parkin, MSN, RN, CDE. How Do I Quickly Bring Down My Blood Glucose? January 2011. Diabetes Forecast. 2 January 2019 .