When hypoglycemia hits, you may find yourself panicking and reaching for anything you can get your hands on to bring your blood sugar back up to normal levels. This strategy can backfire though. If you grab anything in sight and eat it, you will reverse the low blood sugar episode you are experiencing, but can end up with hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose levels. Having high blood sugar levels can bring on many of the same symptoms that low blood sugar does as well as damage overall health.
So how can you prevent and correct an episode of low blood sugar without overdoing it and spiking your blood sugar levels in the process. It all comes down to the 15/15 Rule. This simple strategy brings your blood glucose levels back up into a normal range, but prevents them from rising so rapidly that they get out of control.
What’s the secret? It’s all about pacing your intake of carbohydrates. When blood sugar drops, which is defined as a blood glucose level less than 70mg/dL , you want to consume fast acting carbohydrates to prevent your levels from continuing to fall to dangerous levels. This is when you start to implement the 15/15 Rule.
When you first notice that you are experiencing a low blood sugar level—shakiness, irritability, fast heartbeat, hunger, nausea, lightheadedness—you want to consume 15 grams of a quick acting carbohydrate. This could include having:
• 4-6 ounces of fruit juice
• 3 glucose tablets
• 2 Tablespoons of raisins
• 6 crackers
• 5-6 Lifesaver candies
Once you have consumed your quick-acting carbohydrates, you need to wait 15 minutes. Then, you will retest your blood sugar levels. If they are still less than 100mg/dL, you will want to eat another 15 grams of carbohydrate. After doing this, wait another 15 minutes and retest. You will continue to repeat this process until your blood sugar levels are within a healthy range.
As you can see, this process involves spacing your intake of carbs, followed by blood sugar testing. This allows your body to elevate blood glucose levels in increments, and to also realize exactly when it has reached a healthy level. The spacing and testing also prevents you from consuming too many carbohydrates, which can lead to dangerously high levels. This schedule of frequent carbohydrates paired with frequent testing helps to reduce the fear associated with hypoglycemia by letting you see your blood sugar levels improve quickly and effectively.
Although the 15/15 Rule sounds simple enough, when you are faced with the symptoms of hypoglycemia it can be hard to think clearly and stay on track with this paced structure of treatment. To help prevent this, your best strategy is to work at preventing hypoglycemia in the first place. Plan to eat every 3 to 4 hours and always carry a fast-acting carbohydrate with you, such as glucose tablets, in case you begin to notice your glucose levels dropping.
If you plan to engage in any physical activity, make sure to check your glucose levels before you begin, directly after, and frequently after if you are new to exercise since post-exercise hypoglycemia can present as many as 24 hours after completion. If you experience frequent lows, make sure to discuss this with your healthcare team as this can be a sign that your medications or meal plan may need to be adjusted. Finally, if you take insulin, make sure you have a current prescription of glucagon, a drug that raises blood sugar levels and is usually given by injection. If a hypoglycemic event ever becomes severe enough that you lose consciousness, it's important that the people around you have access to this glucagon and know how to use it.