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Products For Treating Insulin Reactions

03 January 2007
If you take insulin, you've heard it 1,000 times: Always be prepared for low blood glucose, also known as an insulin reaction.

An insulin reaction -- technically called hypoglycaemia, low blood glucose, or low blood sugar -- occurs when blood glucose drops below so-called "normal" levels.

Blood glucose is usually considered to be approaching low levels when it drops below 4 mmol/ L. A drop in blood glucose can occur when you inject too much insulin, eat too little food or inadequate nutrients to cover the insulin, don't eat at the appropriate time, or get more exercise than you're prepared for. And sometimes, hypoglycaemia can occur for no apparent reason. People with diabetes frequently recognize their own unique symptoms signalling this condition. Common symptoms of low blood glucose include: shakiness, sweats, tingling lips, sudden mood swings, irritability, hunger, fatigue, weakness, poor coordination, paleness, loss of concentration, or even unconsciousness.

Experts recommend that you test your blood glucose before treating low blood sugar -- just to confirm that your symptoms are indeed being caused by a drop in blood glucose and not something else, like nervousness over a speech you have to give, a big job interview, or a math test.

Always treat for low blood glucose when you can't test or when you're in doubt. And if you can test but you're feeling really low, it's probably better to treat for low blood glucose and then test your blood within the next couple minutes.

Treating a reaction means eating something with fast-acting sugar in it. Your doctor, diabetes educator, or dietician may have recommended that you keep a supply of your sugar source at home, in your office, and in your glove compartment if you drive. In addition, always carry a product with fast-acting sugar in your pocket or purse. Some common sources are fruit juices, raisins, sugar cubes, or a couple of pieces of hard candy.

In addition to juice and sugary foods, there also are commercially manufactured products you can buy to treat low blood glucose. If you are wondering whether you should spend money on one of these products, consider these three points.

How Fast It Works.

Reaction-product manufacturers claim their products work faster than foods in treating low blood glucose. A little basic information will help you understand their argument.

Most candy, including candy you're likely to carry for low blood glucose, is made from a variety of sugars, with sucrose (table sugar) being the most common ingredient. Glucose is the sugar that affects blood glucose the most. Sucrose, or table sugar, is half glucose and half fructose. Fructose has a lesser and slower effect on blood glucose.

Therefore, three glucose tablets, totalling 15 grams of glucose, may have a similar effect on blood glucose as 30 grams of sucrose. Since many sucrose-containing foods also have a fair amount of fat, you may be getting four times as many calories from a candy bar as from glucose tabs or gel.


Another possible advantage of manufacturers' products is the form they come in. Because tablets or gels seem more like drugs or medications than candy, you're not tempted to snack on them.

The sugary foods you might keep around to treat low blood glucose can be a constant temptation because such foods seem like treats.

Although the commercial products don't taste bad, you are not likely to confuse them with something to nibble on. So, if you find it hard to resist sweets, the commercial product could be a better choice. Another advantage to the commercial product is that you know how much to take.

The most common mistake people make when dealing with low blood glucose is over-treating it. By doing this, they run the risk of pushing their blood glucose levels too high. It's hard to figure how much fruit juice to drink, or how many pieces of candy to eat, when you need sugar quickly, especially if low blood glucose has impaired your judgment. But the commercial tablet or gel has the dosage clearly written on the package. (Note that one tablet from one manufacturer may not provide the same dose as one tablet from another manufacturer.)


In most cases, the commercial products cost more than sugar cubes, honey, or fruit juice. Their exact cost will depend on what you pay for a boxful and how much gel or how many tablets you need to handle low blood glucose.

Although the decision of what to keep available for low blood glucose is up to you, be sure to have some form of fast-acting carbohydrate handy -- either a food or commercial product -- wherever you are.

Many starches, such as crackers or bread, raise blood glucose as quickly as sucrose, so these foods can also be used to treat low blood glucose.

Remember, never give anything to eat or drink to someone who has lost consciousness. At this point they should be given a glucagon injection or be taken to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Specific questions about how to recognize and treat your low blood glucose should be discussed with your health care team.

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