A leading health expert has warned diabetics about the risks of letting blood sugar levels fall too low as they take part in 14-hour fasts every day throughout Ramadan.
Dr. Sri Hartini K.S. Hariadi, an endocrinologist from Bandung’s Hasan Sadikin General Hospital, said the problem of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, had long been overshadowed by concerns about hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.
“Hyperglycemia has always been seen as particularly bad, but a low blood sugar level is just as bad,” she said, warning that the condition could be caused by disruptive or irregular eating patterns, such as during the fasting month. “Hypoglycemia can occur when a patient takes their diabetes medication or injects insulin and then doesn’t eat afterward.”
Sri said studies had shown that hypoglycemia could be deadlier than hyperglycemia. She said symptoms included physical weakness, shaking, hunger pangs and memory problems.
“A person who suddenly becomes hypoglycemic can lose consciousness and even experience a heart attack,” she said.
She advised diabetics who were fasting and experienced symptoms of hypoglycemia to immediately find something sugary to eat to raise their blood sugar level.
“Break your fast immediately, because this could prove to be a life-saving move,” she said.
Sri also urged people to be more proactive in monitoring their blood sugar level. “All kinds of complications linked to diabetes can be avoided if people would just regularly check their blood levels themselves,” she said.
“Studies have shown that with independent blood checks, the risk of death can be reduced by 32 to 52 percent.”
The most obvious benefit of these regular checks is that they allow diabetics to tell whether they risk suffering from hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, she said. “The last thing you want is for someone suffering from hypoglycemia to be given an insulin shot, which would only lower their blood sugar level and could be fatal,” she said.
Sri also said that with commercially available home test kits, diabetics could monitor their sugar levels as frequently as they needed to, and thus avoid complications such as kidney failure, which could go unnoticed with less frequent monitoring.
“It costs Rp 800,000 [$85] a year to test your blood yourself, whereas the cost of dialysis because of kidney failure is more than Rp 115 million a year,” she said.