Signs and symptoms of low glucose levels

Four people living with diabetes tells Barbara Chinyerere what they experience during hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels).

What brings blood glucose levels down?

Before I go to what a person living with diabetes feels when they have low blood glucose levels. Let me just indicate what brings their blood glucose levels down.

  • As their day goes by with workload, losing track of time could result in not eating their in-between snack. A simple thing as not snacking could just dip blood glucose levels.
  • A little more insulin which does not balance with the meal eaten could decrease blood glucose levels.
  • Exercise decrease blood glucose levels.
  • A state of shock brings blood glucose levels down.

Different people experience different symptoms

This is not a one size fit all situation. Different people feel different symptoms. Some can see them coming and can feel their lows. Others could be too young to recognise the feelings, but with time they will get to know them. Note: hunger is not one of the signs mentioned with any of the people interviewed.

One-on-one conversations to get a clear view

An 8-year-old, who has had diabetes for four years, is not able to tell when he has low blood glucose levels. Though the warning signs are very visible to the mother. She explainis, “From a very chatty, energetic busybody, he gets sleepy, which does not happen when he has normal glucose levels. Especially, during the day, he becomes quiet and next thing he is fast asleep.

On a bad day, he gets disorientated and doesn’t know whether its day or night. On checking his levels, he had a dip of 2.4mmol/L. Once he passed out and could only be woken up with glycogen. On this occasion, he had been exercising the whole afternoon and passed out into his PT teacher’s arms.

A 48-year-old male said the minute he gets dizzy, it’s a sign for him to go eat something. This happens any time of the day, especially when he has missed a meal. Eating meals and snacks is his priority.

A 60-year-old female, who’s been diabetic for 22 years, gets extremely sweaty, starts to shake and yawns. Her first low, she experienced blurry vision and had tremors in her hands.

A 58-year-old nurse said she never experienced lows anymore. She has mastered eating regular meals and snacks.

Keeping regular meals, and snacks could limit the chances of hypoglycemia, so snack on.


Barbara Chinyerere

Barbara Chinyere is a mother of two sons. Her youngest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 3. She says it has been a roller coaster ride but she finds courage because of her son’s strength.

Don’t let glucose levels scare you this Halloween

If your family is planning to go trick-or-treating, Donna van Zyl shares ways to enjoy Halloween without fussing over glucose levels.

Halloween need not only be about the trick-or-treating. Encourage your child to partake in non-food activities, such as carving a pumpkin; make decorations; having fun with friends and family whilst watching a scary movie; dressing up or visiting a ‘haunted’ house. It is, however, important to know what your child is looking forward to on this day, so that you can help meet their diabetes management in the middle.

Plan ahead

Sit down with your family and make Halloween plans in advance so your child knows what to expect. Create boundaries and general rules with your family. Your child will be more likely to be on board with a plan they helped create.

The rules of the plan may include:

  • Make sure your child does not go alone.
  • Ensure your child eats well and smart throughout the day, prior to the trick-or-treating so he/she can start off the evening with normal blood sugar level.
  • Then, make a deal with your child to avoid snacking until you’re both home from trick-or-treating.
  • Your child should take his/her own water or non-sugary drinks along, as they may get thirsty.
  • Your child should keep track of his/her sugar levels throughout the evening. Trick-or-treating may include a lot of excitement, running around or even having a treat out of the extraordinary.
  • Be prepared – test and ensure your child has something appropriate to treat a hypo. It is likely that he/she will have something in their bag to treat a hypo, however, the chocolate containing sweets do not necessarily act rapidly. Ideally, they should choose the sugary option and may need a follow-on snack, like a half of a peanut butter sandwich.
  • Friends and family can be very supportive and have healthy snacks waiting for your child. These options may include nuts, dark chocolate and fruit (strawberries dipped into dark chocolate). If they do have chocolate, encourage them to make sure they’re the snack-size versions.

Returning home

Once both of you have returned home, allow your child to choose his/ her favourite treat and administer an insulin dose accordingly.

The non-chocolate treats could be sorted into 15g carb packets and kept to treat a hypo. Those chocolate coated treats can be exchanged for a desired gift i.e. a toy, TV game, movie ticket, or a trip to the zoo etc. The exchange of sweets for a desired toy or game could apply to all the children of the house. The exchanged treats can also be donated to the less fortunate community groups as a treat they often do not receive.

Diabetic-friendly Halloween recipes

You can also make great Halloween diabetic-friendly recipes that will allow your children with diabetes to enjoy the day, without missing out treats.

Suitable Halloween treats:


Donna van Zyl is a private practicing dietitian for Nutritional Solutions, Bloemfontein. She is growing in the field of paediatrics and plays a key role in individualising nutritional therapy for Type 1 diabetics. She has a special interest in optimising health, managing chronic lifestyle related diseases, and sports nutrition. She lectures part-time at the University of the Free State, which she enjoys thoroughly.