Ignoring symptoms of hypoglycemia, on the other hand, can be extremely dangerous, particularly if they occur while you are driving. In that situation, you not only endanger your own life and that of any passengers in your vehicle, but also that of other motorists.
The take-home message is this: If you think your blood glucose level is low, address the problem promptly. Stop what you’re doing, check your blood glucose level with your meter, and have a snack if necessary, even if you have to stop your car or interrupt a conversation to do it. (If you don’t have your meter with you or can’t use it for any reason, go ahead and treat your symptoms of hypoglycemia without checking your blood glucose level first.) Chew and swallow four glucose tablets (containing about 4 grams of carbohydrate each) or drink about 5 ounces of orange juice or a regular (not diet) soft drink. Taking glucose tablets is a good way to treat low blood glucose because it helps you to avoid overtreating.
Sometimes, when people have had consistently higher-than-normal blood glucose levels for a long time, they feel symptoms of low blood glucose when their blood glucose level starts to approach normal. For example, a person who has an average blood glucose level of 200 mg/dl might start to feel symptoms of low blood glucose when his blood glucose level approaches 100 mg/dl. This person is not at risk for serious hypoglycemia. The way to know the difference between a potentially serious low blood glucose level and a false perception of low blood glucose is to check your blood glucose with your meter when you first feel the symptoms. However, as stated earlier, if you are not in a position to check your blood glucose level with your meter, the safest response is to assume it is low and treat it promptly.
Severe hypoglycemia is usually defined as a low blood glucose level that you must have assistance to treat (because, for example, you are too confused to eat or have lost consciousness). If you have ever experienced severe hypoglycemia, it is a good idea to have an emergency glucagon kit in your home or workplace (or both). A friend or family member can learn to give you a life-saving shot of glucagon in case you cannot eat or drink to raise your blood glucose level. However, if neither you nor a companion can deal with your low blood glucose level, instruct your companion to call 911. Paramedics can inject a glucose solution that immediately fixes the problem.
It is a good idea for anyone with diabetes to wear a medical identification bracelet indicating that he has diabetes, just in case he is ever unable to speak for himself.
Avoiding monitoring errors
Your blood glucose meter can provide you with some very useful and important information. When used properly, it can help you learn how specific types and amounts of food, physical activity, and possibly stress affect your blood glucose level. This information can help you plan what to eat and when to exercise, so you stay in better control and avoid low or high blood glucose. If you take insulin, your meter readings can guide you in tailoring your short-acting insulin doses to cover favorite meals or snacks.
To provide you with all of this information, however, your meter needs to be in good working order, and you need to know how to use it correctly. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help determine whether you’re using your meter correctly for the most accurate results:
- Does your meter need to be cleaned periodically? Some do, so check the instruction manual that came with your meter.
- Do you use control solution occasionally to check the accuracy of your meter?
- Are the date and time set correctly on your meter? This may be less important if you always record your blood glucose readings immediately by hand in a log, but if you rely on your meter’s memory to keep track of your numbers, you need the correct date and time to observe trends in your blood glucose levels.