Your child has dangerously low blood sugar if the result of a blood sugar test is less than 60 mg/dL. Low blood sugar comes on quickly and must be treated right away. If the low blood sugar continues too long, your child could pass out or even have a seizure. The brain could be harmed. Because the brain grows very quickly in the first 4 years of life, it’s particularly important to prevent severe low blood sugar in young children.
The medical term for low blood sugar is hypoglycemia. If your child has diabetes and is taking insulin, it is sometimes called an insulin reaction or insulin shock.
Everyone taking care of your child needs to know the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar so it can be treated right away.
Low blood sugar is usually a side effect of diabetes treatment. It can also result from other conditions, diseases, medicines, hormone or enzyme deficiencies, and tumors.
If your child has diabetes, low blood sugar can be caused by too much insulin or other diabetes medicine. If your child is using insulin, it may happen because:
Some other things that can cause an abnormally low blood sugar levels when a child has diabetes are:
Low blood sugar from these other causes is usually not as low and not as dangerous as low blood sugar caused by too much insulin or other diabetes medicine.
Symptoms of low blood sugar usually happen when the blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL. It’s important to recognize low blood sugar as early as possible, before it gets dangerously low.
Low blood sugar can make your child feel:
Your child may:
You may be able to help your child learn to recognize the signs of low blood sugar. You may tell a young child, for example: "Remember how you felt shaky and you came and told me? You did a good job! Remember to tell a grown up if you feel that way again."
Your child may wake up with symptoms when low blood sugar happens during the night. Your child probably has low blood sugar if he or she wakes up alert, sweating, with a headache, with a fast heart rate, or feeling foggy headed. Babies may cry. If your child wakes up with any signs of low blood sugar, test the blood sugar right away. Also think about what was different the previous day (like extra exercise, extra insulin, or less food). This will help you learn how to keep it from happening again. Keep a record of these reactions.
Insulin reactions come quickly and should be treated at once. The general rule is to give sugar in some form as fast as possible.
If your child often has symptoms of low blood sugar, you should see your child’s healthcare provider. Your provider can help you find the cause. Your provider will also give you guidelines for treating low blood sugar when your child is having symptoms.
When you see your child’s provider, be sure to take your records of all of the results of recent blood sugar checks. This helps your provider know whether your child is on the right medicines and is taking the right doses at the right times of day. Without this record, it’s harder for your provider to help you figure out the cause of the symptoms.
Here are some examples of guidelines your child’s provider may give:
Your child should rest at least 10 minutes after eating and repeat the blood sugar test to make sure it is above 70 mg/dL before returning to normal activity.
If your child’s symptoms get worse despite treatment, call your child’s healthcare provider. Emergency treatment may include a shot of glucose or a medicine called glucagon to raise your child’s blood sugar. Your child may need to go to the hospital to be treated with IV glucose. Being at the hospital will also allow your child’s healthcare provider to watch the response to treatment, determine why your child had severe hypoglycemia, and, if necessary, change your child’s medicine dosages.
If your child tends to have episodes of low blood sugar, talk with your child’s healthcare provider about whether you should have a medicine called glucagon on hand. It can be given as a shot by a family member when your child is having low blood sugar but is not alert enough to safely take some food. It makes the blood sugar rise quickly.
If your child is unconscious, call 911 to get help on the way before trying to check the sugar and treat the low blood sugar.
Delayed hypoglycemia means your child has low blood sugar several hours after exercising. It may occur 3 to 4 hours or up to 12 hours after exercise. This can sometimes cause an insulin reaction in the middle of the night.
To prevent delayed hypoglycemia:
You can help prevent low blood sugar by following these guidelines: