What to Know About Glucose Tablets

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Glucose tablets on red surface with sugar cubes in background
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Glucose tablets are a rapidly acting oral treatment for hypoglycemia—or low blood sugar. People with diabetes are at risk of low blood sugar when they use insulin and certain other medicines, such as sulfonylureas. Using glucose tablets can help manage a potentially dangerous situation.

What is glucose?

Glucose is a simple sugar your body uses for energy. You get glucose from foods containing it. Your body will also break down more complex sugars and carbohydrates from food into glucose. When your body absorbs glucose, your blood sugar levels rise. In healthy people, the hormone insulin works to help your cells use the glucose for energy. Any extra glucose goes to your liver for storage with the help of insulin. Your liver can release the glucose later when you need it.

People with diabetes do not have enough—or any—insulin to make all this happen. They either use a commercial insulin product or a medicine to help release or enhance insulin to manage high blood sugar levels. Sometimes, these medicines take blood sugar levels too low and cause hypoglycemia.

When is blood sugar too low?

Blood sugar is too low when it is 70 mg/dL or less. Blood sugar is severely low if it goes below 54 mg/dL. The only way to know for sure is to measure your blood sugar using a finger-stick glucometer. But low blood sugar symptoms can be an important clue that you are having a problem. Unfortunately, not everyone gets symptoms and some people get so used to the symptoms that they don’t notice them anymore. So, it’s always best to know your level.

Common hypoglycemia symptoms include:

When are glucose tablets used?

If you feel like you have low blood sugar or a check shows it’s low, you need a quick source of glucose. Most foods and even candy can take too long to get glucose into your blood. In a pinch, things like sugar, honey or juice will do. However, glucose tablets and other glucose products are designed for your body to absorb glucose rapidly.

Another advantage of glucose tablets is that they come in a precise dose. The standard recommended amount of glucose to treat low blood sugar episodes is 15 grams. If you use foods, candy or beverages, you need to know how much you need to consume in order to get 15 grams of glucose. For example, you need about 1 tablespoon of honey or 4 ounces of juice. Using a glucose product gives you confidence you are getting the right amount. Typically, you need to chew four glucose tablets to get enough glucose.

Once you take glucose tablets, recheck your blood sugar in 15 minutes. A simple rule—15 and 15—makes this easy to remember. You need 15 grams of glucose then wait 15 minutes. If your level is still low, repeat the glucose dose.

Be sure to ask your doctor for recommendations specific for you. Verify the amount of glucose you should use and your target levels. Ask how to manage very low blood sugar levels below 54 mg/dL or even 40 mg/dL. Your doctor may want you to use 30 grams of glucose or a glucagon shot. A family member, friend or coworker should know how to assist you—including giving you the glucagon shot—in case you are not coherent.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if someone with diabetes has serious symptoms that aren’t responding to treatment or if they have fainted or lost consciousness.

Do you need a doctor’s prescription for glucose tablets?

No, you don’t need a provider’s prescription for glucose tablets. Many tablets and other glucose products are available over the counter at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail markets.

What kinds of glucose tablets and products are available?

Glucose tablets and other glucose products are fast-acting sources of glucose. The tablets are chewable for quick absorption. Four of them usually gives you 16 grams of glucose, but be sure to check the label for instructions. There are also gel pouches you squeeze into your mouth and liquids you drink. Gels and liquids typically provide 15 grams of glucose. A powder form of glucose is available as well. It provides 15 grams of glucose you can eat from the pouch or mix with water. For a gel, liquid or powder, finish the entire container to get the full dose.

All glucose products come in a variety of flavors. You can save some money by buying store brands. They have the same amount of glucose and will work just as well. Carry one of these options on your person at all times. Don’t rely on having it stashed in your car or desk.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 20
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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