Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in the US, affecting 90-95%¹ of the 37 million Americans currently living with it. When you have diabetes, too much sugar stays in your bloodstream because your cells don’t respond appropriately to insulin.
As a result, your pancreas increases insulin production, leading to a higher than average blood sugar level. This can cause serious long-term health problems, including cardiovascular disease, eye problems, kidney disease, and severe hypoglycemia.
Although type 2 diabetes is an incurable health condition, you can still live a long life with diabetes. Regular blood glucose monitoring and following a specialized diabetes treatment plan developed by your healthcare team ensure your quality of life.
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Hypoglycemia is when you have abnormally low blood glucose, and it’s one of the most common diabetes complications. To receive a hypoglycemia diagnosis, you will need a plasma glucose concentration of less than 70 mg/dL.
According to one study,² 46.5% of people with type 2 diabetes and 83% with type 1 diabetes get hypoglycemia. Type 2 diabetes can lead to severe hypoglycemia complications when it’s uncontrolled. Another study³ said it can increase your chances of death by six times.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises becoming familiar with responding to your symptoms of low glucose levels since every person is different. Common low blood sugar symptoms to keep an eye out for include:
Weakness and fatigue
A tingling or numb sensation in your tongue, lips, or cheeks
It is also possible for hypoglycemia symptoms to go unnoticed: This is “Hypoglycemia unawareness.” It prevents many people with diabetes from identifying the early signs of hypoglycemia, so they’re less likely to receive treatment in time.
Research⁴ suggests that older adults (65+) are at a higher risk of this complication than younger generations. Regular blood sugar testing is vital.
The only way to truly know if your glucose is low is to check your blood sugar; never just assume. If you are struggling or unfamiliar with the process, consult your healthcare provider.
Research² indicates that the following factors are the most common reasons for low glucose levels:
Insulin secretagogues (a kind of type 2 diabetes medication)
Skipping a meal
Doing physical exercise without eating first
A history of severe hypoglycemia
Coronary artery disease
Knowing how blood testing works means you can do it properly and avoid inaccurate results. According to a study⁵ conducted on 370,740 individuals with type 2 diabetes, 14% of the participants were not using their diabetes supplies or self-monitoring their glucose correctly.
To correctly use a blood sugar meter for testing, you need to:
Clean your meter.
Grab a test strip. Tighten the container lid after since moisture can damage strip quality.
Use soap and warm water to wash your hands (contamination can disrupt results). Dry entirely and massage your hand for better blood flow to your finger.
Prick the tip of your finger with a lancet, squeezing at the base to create a drop of blood.
Place that blood on the strip, insert it into your blood glucose meter, and wait a few seconds for the blood sugar reading to appear.
Track and measure results for every test, noting your target blood sugar level or range and the goals you created with your doctor.
Dispose of the strip and your lancet properly.
There are two formulas for calculating blood sugar levels. In the US, the most popular measurement is milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). In the UK, it’s millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
If you need to convert measurements, use these formulas:
To go to mmol/L from mg/dL: mmol/L = mg/dL / 18
To go to mg/dL from mmol/L: mg/dL = 18 × mmol/L
You should discuss the best time to check blood sugar and how often with your doctor. Still, here's an overview.
When measuring fasting blood sugar, as soon as you wake up is typically the best time to test. You should check either two hours after a meal or before eating since that's when your blood sugar levels are generally in the normal range.
If you have type 2 diabetes, doctors recommend that you check your blood sugar at least once a day. You may need additional tests depending on your circumstances. Ask your doctor about the best frequency for you.
Making a blood sugar testing schedule can be beneficial if you have diabetes. It can help you identify potential patterns, assess blood sugar levels (too high/too low), and may even allow you to gain better control over your blood glucose. It can get very dangerous when your blood sugar is uncontrolled, so a schedule may help you stay on track.
One study⁶ reports the normal range for blood sugar readings at 4-6 mmol/L or approximately 72-108 mg/dL. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gets more specific. It states the typical target should be 80-130 mg/dL before a meal and less than 180 mg/dL two hours after eating (timing starts at the beginning of your meal).
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the best way to manage your type 2 diabetes and blood sugar results are by creating an effective diabetes care plan, which often includes:
Reaching or maintaining a healthy weight.
Continuous glucose monitoring.
Meeting a diabetes educator/education specialist to learn more about the condition and receive health tips. They will also teach you about the diabetes ABCs:
A1C test: This gives an average reading of your glucose levels from the previous three months. The typical goal is to reach an A1C level under 7%.
Blood pressure: Consult your doctor about your blood pressure goals (typically under 140/90 mm Hg for people with diabetes).
Cholesterol: Goals vary by person, so discuss with your doctor.
Stop smoking: Quitting smoking can have several benefits on your health, from improving your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to decreasing your risk of diabetes complications.
Increasing your physical activity. Consider brisk walking, aerobic exercise, etc.
Taking your medication as prescribed, whether oral medication like metformin or injectable medications like insulin. Don't skip or change your medicines without speaking with your doctor.
You can treat mild hypoglycemia with a glucose tablet, sugary snack, or drink, such as fruit juice. If you or someone else has severe symptoms of hypoglycemia, it’s an emergency, and you should seek immediate medical care. If someone has passed out and you know how, you should use a glucogen shot to restore healthier blood sugar levels. Do not use insulin.They should wake up within about 15 minutes.
Symptoms of severe hypoglycemia include:
If you have vision impairment, a family history of diabetes your doctor doesn't already know about, or potential symptoms of diabetes, you should discuss your concerns with a healthcare professional.
People who have or suspect hypoglycemia unawareness should contact their doctor to screen for hypoglycemia. Early diagnosis and immediate diabetes management are key to reducing potential diabetes complications and increasing quality of life.
You may also want to call your doctor if they have already diagnosed you with type 2 diabetes and treatment isn’t improving your symptoms. This is especially important if you keep experiencing inaccurate readings or cannot get your blood glucose back in a normal range.
Don't make any major changes to your daily routine or diabetes management plan until you get confirmation from your diabetes care team. Everyone is different, so they will know the best way for you to move forward.
The complications of diabetes, especially when your blood sugar isn’t under control, can be severe and sometimes fatal. Don’t underestimate the importance of regular blood glucose monitoring and blood sugar tests to ensure you are hitting your blood sugar targets. Similarly, it’s vital to be familiar with correct self-monitoring.
It’s beneficial to have a diabetes care plan to manage your results, keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, and ensure you're getting the best care. Never make changes to your plan without first discussing it with your doctor.
Since every patient is different, they will know the best alternatives to accommodate you.
Type 2 diabetes | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Hypoglycemia unawareness in older compared with middle-aged patients with type 2 diabetes | American Diabetes Association
Blood glucose monitoring | StatPearls
Manage blood sugar | Center for Disease Control and Prevention