Effects and Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar Levels


One of the effects of diabetes suffered by many individuals is low blood sugar. In the case of diabetes, the body is not able to process blood sugar or glucose, which subsequently damages bodily systems and organs.

The treatment for low glucose levels is to use oral hypoglycemic or injectable insulin which assists the body in producing energy by drawing glucose into the cellular system. The insulin or oral hypoglycemic medications require that the individual have a enough blood sugar upon which it will work.

In some cases an individual will also have a condition that is known as “brittle” or hard to control diabetes. These individuals find that they have problems with low blood sugar and high blood sugar, which happen during both the daytime and nighttime.

Low Blood Sugar Definition

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is the medical term used to describe when blood sugar falls below what the body requires to stay alive.

The normal blood sugar range level is between 70 and 99 mg/dL

Low blood sugar is defined when the level, measured in mg/dL, falls below 65. When it falls very low, such as below 20, it is considered a dangerous blood sugar level; individuals can get confused, drowsy and even lose consciousness.

The blood sugar levels are necessary in order to maintain significant brain activity. If this blood sugar drops during pregnancy, it can permanently harm the baby.

Individuals who do not suffer from brittle diabetes can produce low blood sugar by taking too much insulin, not eating enough food, exercise when it wasn’t planned for, drinking too much alcohol or exercising and not eating.

Each of these situations causes an environment in the body in which the amount of blood sugar drops and there continues to be insulin present that works on the remaining blood sugar.

Low Blood Sugar Symptoms

Low blood sugar is usually referred to as an “insulin reaction”.
People who are suffering from any insulin reaction will present with:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Tingling
  • Hunger
  • Numbness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sudden tiredness
  • Pale appearance
  • Personality changes
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Potential loss of consciousness.(1)

The physician, diabetes educator or endocrinologists should discuss how to treat low blood sugar symptoms with the sufferer. These treatment protocols should also be reviewed with family members and friends as well as carried on the diabetic’s person in case they are unable to communicate.

People who are having a low blood sugar reaction, and are also exhibiting personality changes or confusion, may have a difficult time accepting treatments.

Low Blood Sugar First Aid

Individuals who suffer from brittle diabetes should also carry injectable sugar for instances when they are unable to take in nutrition by mouth or are unwilling because of confusion.

For the most part, you should be able to correct low blood sugar by drinking small amounts of fluid that are highly concentrated in sugar, such as orange juice, followed by nutrition that is high in protein to maintain blood sugar levels.

The initial high glucose fluid, such as orange juice with no added sugar, will enter the bloodstream quickly through the stomach lining and the follow-up of protein will give the body a consistent supply of nutrition.(2)

Nocturnal Hypoglycemia

Low blood sugar can also occur at night. Unfortunately, it is harder to recognize because individuals are most likely asleep.

Diabetics who suffer the effects of low blood sugar at night can experience nightmares, waking up very alert, sweating at night and awakening with damp bed sheets, waking up with a fast heart rate or restlessness and an inability to go back to sleep.(3)

It is very important for individuals to check their blood sugar during the night if they awaken with any of these symptoms.

If you feel certain you are low, then eat a few quick carbohydrates before testing your level in order to ensure that your blood sugar will not continue to drop.

Some individuals will sleep through night reactions but have symptoms the next morning.

If you awaken in the morning with a very high blood sugar level after breakfast or before lunch, headache first thing in the morning, ketones in the urine but no glucose and/or foggy thinking first thing in the morning, you should wake yourself up during the night at 2 a.m. for the next few nights in order to test blood sugar.

This will help to identify and correct the situation that can have potentially damaging results.

Continuous Risk

Researchers have found that a diabetic who has one insulin reaction increases their risk of having another. In one study researchers found that 22% of people who suffered a hypoglycemia episode which required ambulance attendance suffered another within the next 24 hours.(4)

Unfortunately, the longer a person has diabetes and suffers from low blood sugar reaction, the more difficult it is for them to recognize the symptoms of a hypoglycemic attack because the body acclimates to the stress of low blood sugar. These individuals only recognize low blood sugar levels when they’re sugar drops significantly.

It is very important for individuals who suffer from diabetes to continue to monitor their blood sugar levels even when they believe that they are stable and under control.

Blood sugar levels are significantly affected by exercise, stress, lack of sleep and hydration. By closely monitoring blood sugar an individual is taking big steps towards improving their long-term health.


(1) National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: Hypoglycemia

(2) Mayoclinic.com: Hypoglycemia

(3) Medscape General Medicine: Nocturnal Hypoglycemia

(4) Prehospital Emergency Care: Prehospital Hypoglycemia

Last Updated on April 5, 2024