6 proven ways to lower blood sugar fast

High blood sugar levels | How to lower blood sugar quickly (emergency) | How to lower blood sugar at home (non-emergency) | When to go to the ER

People with diabetes and prediabetes benefit from blood sugar management. Keeping their blood glucose levels as well-controlled as possible helps avoid long-term complications. 

Hyperglycemia is the medical term for high blood sugar levels in the body. As part of your diabetes treatment plan, your healthcare professional will outline what to do when your blood sugar is too low or too high. This article will focus on how to lower your blood sugar quickly when it is too high. 

What is a dangerous level of blood sugar?

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The following chart provides general guidelines for adults with diabetes. Consult your healthcare professional for your personalized blood glucose level target ranges, which can vary. Blood sugar in adults is generally considered high if it is above 130 mg/dL before a meal or above 180 mg/dL within one or two hours after a meal. 

Not every scenario may require intervention.

What do my blood sugar levels mean?

Adults with diabetesDangerously highA dangerously high number will vary, depending on your target ranges and treatment plan. Your healthcare professional will give you more information.Check ketones if required/Seek emergency medical care as outlined on your treatment plan
High>130 mg/dL, or possibly higher, depending on your target range Follow your treatment plan provided by your healthcare professional
Normal70-130 mg/dL depending on your target rangeFollow your treatment plan provided by your healthcare professional
Low<70 mg/dL depending on your target rangeFollow your treatment plan provided by your healthcare professional
Dangerously low<54 mg/dL but may vary depending on your rangeEmergency intervention with glucagon and emergency medical care may be required depending on the patient’s status. Patients who are able to eat should consume fast-acting carbs as detailed in their treatment plan.
Adults without diabetesHighA fasting blood sugar of 100-125 mg/dL is considered high, and in the prediabetes range

A fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dL or more is considered high and in the diabetes range

Consult your healthcare provider. Adults with prediabetes may be able to lower blood sugar with lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and exercise (and possibly medication). Adults with diabetes generally will need medication, along with diet and exercise, and some patients will need insulin. 
Normal<100 mg/dL fasting

<140 mg/dL after eating

Consult your healthcare provider-generally, no action is required.
Low70-100 mg/dL Consult your healthcare provider

RELATED: See more blood sugar charts here

Your healthcare professional will provide you with a diabetes treatment plan. You will know what medication(s) and/or insulin to take, how often to check your blood sugar, what to do if your blood sugar is too low or too high, and more. Your healthcare provider will tell you at what number your blood sugar level is considered dangerous.

How to lower blood sugar immediately in an emergency

The best option and fastest way to lower blood sugar within minutes is to use your rapid-acting insulin. Fast-acting insulin, such as Humalog or Novolog, starts to work about 15 minutes after it is injected. This will all be detailed in your treatment plan. However, not everyone with Type 2 diabetes will use insulin. For people who do not use insulin, see the tips in the section below titled “Other ways to lower blood sugar at home [non-emergency].”

Stephanie Redmond, Pharm.D., CDCES, BC-ADM is the Founder and VP of drstephanies.com. She notes that for people with Type 2 diabetes who do not use insulin, another option is a sulfonylurea drug. Drugs in this class of medications include Amaryl (glimepiride), Glucotrol (glipizide), or Micronase (glyburide). She notes that “these medications are falling out of favor in our diabetes care guidelines, but nonetheless, they are fast-acting and trigger the pancreas to release a surge of insulin, causing an immediate or fast reduction in blood sugar levels. There are still many patients who take these.” Since sulfonylureas are available by prescription only, you can ask your healthcare provider if one of them would be an appropriate medication for you if you do not use insulin.

It can be overwhelming to see many charts and numbers and actions required. However, when you receive your own treatment plan and review it with your doctor, it will be easier to understand exactly what to do in every situation. 

You can ask your endocrinologist if they can recommend (or work with) a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) and/or find a CDCES or diabetes education program in your area. A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming—so having these experts as part of your diabetes care team can be very valuable. 

Other ways to lower blood sugar quickly at home (non-emergency)

Below are some ways, besides insulin, to lower blood sugar within 24 hours. These tips may be helpful for people who do not use insulin. 

1. Double-check your medications

In some cases, your blood sugar may be high because of a missed dose of diabetes medication or insulin. If your blood sugar is high and you realize you forgot to take your medication, consult your doctor or pharmacist about what to do. You may need to take an extra dose right away or wait till the next scheduled time, depending on the medication and the timing of the missed dose. If you have trouble remembering to take your medication, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or CDCES for recommendations. For example, you may benefit from using a weekly pill organizer, or a reminder app on your mobile phone.

Some patients skip doses of medication or try to ration insulin because they have trouble affording their medication. With so many ways to save money, such as choosing generics, using manufacturer coupons, or accessing a free SingleCare card, cost should never stop you from taking your medications as prescribed. If you have difficulty affording your medications, tell your healthcare provider so they can make some adjustments to your regimen that can be just as effective but more affordable.

RELATED: How to afford insulin on Medicare

2. Exercise 

Exercise helps with insulin sensitivity, so your muscle cells can use insulin to take up glucose and use it for energy. Exercise is one of the best ways to help lower blood sugar in the short term, and regular exercise can help control blood sugar in the long term. Dr. Redmond explains that “exercise is the best way to instantly lower blood sugar, combined with drinking water. Go for a walk around the block—think of this as burning off extra sugar.” Exercise can lower blood sugar for up to 24 hours after your workout—or even longer, according to the American Diabetes Association.

In general, the recommended weekly amount of exercise for adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity. You can break this down into 30 minutes of walking, for example, five days per week, adding strength training on two days. Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. 

Be mindful of blood sugar levels before exercising. If you are exercising to bring down high blood sugar, make sure your blood sugar level is in a safe range for physical activity. At a high level, usually around 240 mg/dL or so, you will need to test for ketones. If ketones are present, you should not exercise. Instead, follow your doctor’s instructions. You will need to be in close contact with your doctor and/or require emergency treatment, so follow your treatment plan exactly.  

RELATED: What’s the best exercise for diabetes?

3. Drink water

If your blood sugar is high, you could become dehydrated. With high blood sugar, you need to take in more fluids than usual to help flush excess sugar out of the body through the urine. Dr. Redmond notes, “I describe this to my patients that it can dilute the sugar in the blood—and also flushes out extra sugar, so it can have a quick-acting effect.” Other sugar-free drinks can be used if water is not available. Avoid sugary drinks like fruit juices and regular sodas, because they will raise blood sugar even more. 

4. Eat foods low on the glycemic index

There are no magic foods that lower blood sugar instantly, says Dr. Redmond. However, when you are trying to quickly lower your blood sugar, avoid foods that cause blood sugar spikes such as white bread, rice, pasta, cookies, and ice cream. These types of foods can further raise your blood sugar. 

Instead, if you are hungry, opt for snacks or meals like non-starchy vegetables or salads, nuts, oils, avocados, or lean proteins. These foods, eaten in moderation, will generally not cause a spike. They will not bring down your blood sugar quickly but will prevent further spikes while you work to bring your blood sugar down. 

RELATED: What’s the best diabetes diet plan?

5. Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is not a proven treatment for lowering blood sugar, but some scientific studies say that it may help. One very small study looked at people who had two tablespoons of ACV at bedtime, along with an ounce of cheese—compared to people who had two tablespoons of water and an ounce of cheese at bedtime. In the morning, those who took ACV had a 4% decrease in fasting blood sugar, compared to a 2% decrease in those who drank water. 

Other studies have also found vinegar to be helpful in lowering blood sugar levels. People who want to try this should dilute the vinegar before drinking it, for example, diluting one or two tablespoons of vinegar in an 8-ounce glass of water. Consuming ACV or other types of vinegar should not be relied on alone on to quickly lower blood sugar, but it may have a small impact, so if you can tolerate the taste, it’s worth a try—along with other measures. 

6. Cinnamon or dietary supplements

Dr. Redmond recommends cinnamon and Banaba. “They exert an insulin-like effect, and they do so in different ways.” Cassia cinnamon, she explains, has been shown in animal research to stimulate insulin release and lower blood sugar levels. These studies suggest that cassia cinnamon has a greater insulin-stimulating effect than Ceylon cinnamon. 

In terms of dietary cinnamon, Dr. Redmond explains that dietary supplements generally provide a more regulated and defined amount, so “I don’t recommend people dumping a ton of cinnamon on their food.” However, for those who prefer to use cinnamon in the diet, she recommends adding up to one teaspoonful of cinnamon in oatmeal or yogurt for flavor and to boost antioxidants. 

“Animal research shows that Banaba may activate insulin receptors, mimicking insulin activity. Human studies may show benefits to blood sugar, but the mechanism is not as well understood as in animal models,” Dr. Redmond explains. 

Dr. Redmond also notes that chromium and berberine may help lower blood sugar, but it may take longer to lower blood sugar. 

Before taking any dietary supplement, consult your healthcare provider to make sure it is safe for you. 

RELATED: Health benefits of cinnamon

A note about alcohol

Alcohol can cause low blood sugar, especially when combined with insulin or certain diabetes medications (most notably, glipizide, glimepiride, or glyburide). Although this may seem like a no-brainer, then, when trying to deliberately lower a high blood glucose level, this is not the case. Safe alcohol consumption will look different for everyone, so check with your doctor about a safe amount of alcohol to consume. But do not use alcohol to try to lower blood sugar. Dr. Redmond says, “I would definitely not advise ANY patients to drink alcohol for the purpose of lowering blood sugar.” 

The American Diabetes Association warns, “Because many of the symptoms of hypoglycemia—such as slurred speech, drowsiness, confusion, or difficulty walking—are also symptoms of being drunk, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. And if you often have hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition in which you don’t recognize you’re going low, drinking becomes especially dicey. Timing may also be an issue, as hypoglycemia can strike hours after your last drink, especially if you’ve been exercising.”

RELATED: Can I drink alcohol while taking metformin?

Lowering fasting blood sugar

Many people ask how to lower fasting blood sugar. Fasting blood sugar is measured after fasting (not eating or drinking anything except water) for at least eight to 12 hours. There are several lifestyle changes you can make that will help you lower fasting blood sugar, such as making dietary changes, increasing exercise, focusing on weight loss if needed, drinking plenty of water, and limiting stress when possible. 

Dr. Redmond notes that “meditation and mindfulness to start your day can have a relaxing effect and lower blood sugars by reducing stress.” Also, bad news for coffee lovers—Dr. Redmond suggests limiting caffeine: “Some people experience a spike in blood sugars from caffeine, so you may be adding to your high blood sugars inadvertently.” This is a great example of where a CGM would be beneficial.

You can read more about measures to lower fasting blood sugar here. 

Untreated hyperglycemia

Symptoms of high blood sugar may include increased thirst, urination, and hunger, as well as headaches and blurred vision. The blood sugar number at which symptoms occur may vary by individual. When blood sugar is too high, it is important to bring it back to your target range. 

Having dangerously high blood sugar can lead to a life-threatening medical condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA. DKA can cause coma or death and is an emergency situation. DKA is more common in people with Type 1 diabetes, but anyone with diabetes should recognize the symptoms and know at what blood sugar level they should test for ketones (in the urine or blood). According to the American Diabetes Association, DKA begins with the symptoms of high blood sugar mentioned above. Then, it can progress to symptoms of fatigue, vomiting, stomach pain, fruity-smelling breath, trouble breathing, and confusion. People who experience symptoms of DKA should call 911 and have an ambulance take them to the emergency room. 

Long-term complications

Having high blood glucose frequently over time can lead to many serious health problems and complications. This is why staying in your target range as much as possible is important. Examples of long-term complications of diabetes include:

  • Eye problems, including sensitivity to light, vision problems, and blindness.
  • Foot problems, including infections and sores. In some severe cases, amputation may be required.
  • Problems with the heart and blood vessels, such as heart attack, stroke, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
  • Nerve damage, such as numbness, tingling, and pain. Men may have erectile dysfunction. 
  • Stomach problems, including digestive issues, constipation, or diarrhea.
  • Kidney problems, which could lead to the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.
  • A weakened immune system, increasing the chance of infection and complications of infections.

Prevention

You may want to consult your healthcare professional about wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). CGMs are convenient, portable, and are becoming more affordable. They can give you an insight into what your blood sugar is doing 24 hours a day—you can see how your blood sugar responds to foods, exercise, and other factors. 

When to go to the ER vs. calling a healthcare provider

Always make sure you understand your treatment plan, including what to do when your blood sugar is high or dangerously high. These numbers vary by individual, so your healthcare professional will explain your target ranges and what to do when you are above this range. If you ever have any questions or need help figuring out what to do, contact your healthcare provider. 

When blood sugar is high, people who are prescribed insulin will use their insulin to help bring down high blood sugar. Other measures, such as exercise and drinking plenty of water, can help, too.

However, for dangerously high blood sugar, ketones in the urine, or other symptoms of very high blood sugar, call 911 and have an ambulance take you to the emergency room. If you are unsure if you require emergency help, it’s better to err on the safe side and go to the emergency room. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, “Anyone who thinks they’re having a medical emergency should not hesitate to seek care. Federal law ensures that anyone who comes to the emergency department is treated and stabilized and that their insurance provides coverage based on symptoms, not a final diagnosis.” 



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