Diabetes Forecast

Can My "Normal" Be High?

If my blood glucose numbers dip below 120 mg/dl, I start to feel light-headed, and when they get down to 100 or below, I am dizzy. Is it possible that my “normal” numbers should be higher than the recommended low 100s? Name Withheld

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Christy L. Parkin, MSN, RN, CDE, responds:

Hypoglycemia, also known as low blood glucose (sugar), is common in people with diabetes who take insulin and some oral diabetes medications. Conditions that can lead to hypoglycemia include taking too much medication, missing or delaying a meal, eating too little food for the amount of insulin taken, exercising too strenuously, drinking too much alcohol, or any combination of these factors. Light-headedness is one symptom of low blood glucose; others include shakiness, anxiety, sweating, irritability, clamminess, and rapid heart rate. People with diabetes often refer to hypoglycemia as an “insulin reaction.”

The normal range for blood glucose is about 60 mg/dl (milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) to 120 mg/dl, depending on when a person last ate. When possible, you should confirm that you have hypoglycemia by testing your blood glucose. In general, it is advisable to treat for hypoglycemia by consuming 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate when your blood glucose falls below 70, unless it is time to eat a meal.

Some people with diabetes develop symptoms of low blood glucose at slightly higher levels. If your blood glucose is high for long periods of time, you may have symptoms and feel low when your level is closer to 100 mg/dl. You can also experience hypoglycemic symptoms at normal levels when your blood glucose drops rapidly. Getting your blood glucose under better control can help to lower the level at which you begin to feel symptoms. In other words, you may have to work at “readjusting your thermostat” to get used to lower, more normal blood glucose levels. As you acclimate to the lower blood glucose levels, you will feel more comfortable between 70 and 100 mg/dl. 

People with diabetes should consult their health care providers for individual guidelines on the target blood glucose ranges that are best for them. The lowest safe blood glucose level for a person varies depending on age, medical condition, and ability to sense hypoglycemic symptoms. A target range that is safe for a young adult with no diabetes complications, for example, may be too low for a young child or an older person with other medical problems. In the end, prevention is the best “treatment” for low blood glucose reactions.



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