What is the 15-15 rule for hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar, is a condition that occurs when the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood drops below normal levels. For most people, normal blood sugar levels range from 70 to 130 mg/dL before meals and less than 180 mg/dL after meals. Hypoglycemia typically happens among people with diabetes who take insulin or other diabetes medications, but it can also occur in people who don’t have diabetes. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include shakiness, sweating, anxiety, hunger, irritability, blurred vision, dizziness, and confusion.

What is the 15-15 rule?

The 15-15 rule is a simple strategy used to treat mild to moderate hypoglycemia. It involves consuming 15 grams of carbohydrates, waiting 15 minutes, and then checking your blood sugar again. If it’s still low, you repeat the process until your blood sugar returns to a normal level.

The 15-15 rule is recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) as a practical way for people with diabetes to self-treat hypoglycemia. It provides a guideline for how to raise blood sugar quickly and safely without overshooting to high levels.

Why 15 grams of carbohydrates?

15 grams of carbohydrates is the typical amount needed to raise blood sugar by 50 to 70 mg/dL, based on research. This carbohydrate dose aims to bring low blood sugar back up to normal levels, without going too high. Some key reasons why 15 grams is recommended:

  • Small enough dose to avoid rebound high blood sugar. Large amounts of carbohydrates can overcorrect and lead to high blood sugar after hypoglycemia.
  • Larger carbohydrate servings can require more insulin later to cover, increasing hypoglycemia risk again.
  • 15 grams is easy to consume quickly – the faster carbs are absorbed, the faster blood sugar rises.

Examples of 15 grams of fast-acting carbs include:

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of regular soda
  • 1 tablespoon of honey or sugar
  • 3-4 glucose tablets
  • 1 serving of gel icing or frosting

Why wait 15 minutes?

After consuming 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates, waiting 15 minutes allows time for the sugar to be digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. Since different carbs are absorbed at different rates, 15 minutes provides a window for blood sugar to stabilize.

Some key reasons for waiting 15 minutes include:

  • Allows carb absorption to increase blood sugar.
  • Avoids stacking more carbs before the initial dose takes effect.
  • Provides time to recheck blood sugar and see if levels have normalized.
  • Prevents overshooting blood sugar too high by adding more carbs prematurely.

After 15 minutes, it’s important to check blood sugar levels again to determine if more carbohydrates are needed or if levels have stabilized.

When to use the 15-15 rule

The 15-15 rule is useful for treating mild to moderate hypoglycemia generally defined as:

  • Blood sugar 70 mg/dL or below
  • Presence of hypoglycemia symptoms
  • Patient is conscious and able to swallow

In these situations, the 15-15 rule provides an straightforward approach to raise blood sugar safely on your own. It can be used if hypoglycemia occurs:

  • Before meals
  • Between meals
  • During or after exercise
  • During the night
  • Due to a missed meal or snack
  • From delayed gastric emptying

The 15-15 rule is not intended for severe hypoglycemia when someone requires assistance. Call emergency services for:

  • Blood sugar below 50 mg/dL
  • Inability to control airway or swallow
  • Unconsciousness or seizure

How to follow the 15-15 rule

Here are step-by-step instructions for appropriately using the 15-15 rule:

  1. Check blood sugar at the first sign of hypoglycemia symptoms or 4-5 hours after a previous meal.
  2. If blood sugar is 70 mg/dL or below, consume 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates such as fruit juice, regular soda, glucose tablets, or honey.
  3. Wait approximately 15 minutes to allow blood sugar to rise.
  4. Wash hands and check blood sugar again.
  5. If blood sugar is still below 70 mg/dL, repeat steps 2-4, consuming another 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates.
  6. Once blood sugar rises to 70 mg/dL or above, consider eating a well-balanced snack to maintain normal levels.

It’s important to recheck blood sugar after 15 minutes to evaluate if more carbohydrates are needed. Repeating the 15 gram carb dose and rechecking prevents blood sugar from dropping again soon after.

Modifications for children

The 15-15 rule can also be used for children over 4 years old using the following carbohydrate doses:

Age Grams of Carbs
4-8 years old 10-15 grams
9-12 years old 15-20 grams
13 years and older 15-20 grams

Waiting 15 minutes and rechecking blood sugar is still important after providing carbohydrates. Caregivers may need to assist with carbohydrate dosing and blood sugar monitoring for young children.

Foods to avoid

While treating hypoglycemia, it’s best to avoid foods that are high in fat and protein because they slow digestion and the rise in blood sugar. Examples of foods to avoid include:

  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Jerky
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Meat

Stick to fast-acting carbohydrate sources that can promptly raise blood sugar levels.

Recording hypoglycemia episodes

Whenever you experience and treat hypoglycemia, it’s helpful to record information such as:

  • Blood sugar reading
  • Symptoms
  • Time of day
  • Carbohydrates consumed
  • Recheck blood sugar result

Reviewing this data can help identify patterns and causes of recurrent hypoglycemia, enabling you to take steps to prevent future episodes.

Seeking medical assistance

Use the 15-15 rule for treating mild to moderate hypoglycemia. However, seek immediate medical help if:

  • Symptoms don’t improve or blood sugar remains low after using the 15-15 rule
  • You experience severe hypoglycemia with blood sugar below 50 mg/dL
  • Hypoglycemia recurs frequently, such as twice a week

Frequent or severe hypoglycemia may require adjustments to diabetes medication doses or nutritional changes. Consulting your healthcare provider can help prevent problematic hypoglycemia.

Preventing hypoglycemia

While the 15-15 rule provides a tool for treating hypoglycemia, it’s also important to take measures to avoid episodes of low blood sugar. Prevention strategies include:

  • Monitoring blood sugar regularly
  • Consuming meals and snacks at consistent times
  • Not delaying or skipping meals
  • Checking blood sugar before driving or exercise
  • Having a bedtime snack
  • Educating family and friends on hypoglycemia signs
  • Wearing medical identification
  • Carrying glucose tablets or candy

Talk to your healthcare provider if lifestyle changes are not effective in preventing hypoglycemia. Medication or insulin adjustments may be needed.

When not to use the 15-15 rule

There are some situations when the 15-15 rule should not be used for treating low blood sugar:

  • Alcohol consumption – Alcohol impairs the glycogen conversion process needed to raise blood sugar and prevents oral carbs from being effective.
  • Soon after exercise – Blood sugar can still drop after cardio activity even with carb intake due to excess insulin.
  • Nausea/vomiting – Carbs may not be absorbed properly with gastrointestinal issues.
  • Pregnancy – Lower carb targets are needed to prevent fetal complications.

In these cases, specialized hypoglycemia treatment or medical advice may be needed. The standard 15-15 rule could potentially not raise blood sugar enough or lead to rebound lows.


The 15-15 rule provides a simple, effective approach for treating mild to moderate hypoglycemia. Consuming 15 grams of fast-acting carbs, waiting 15 minutes, and rechecking blood sugar can safely raise levels into the normal range. This rule is widely recommended for people with diabetes experiencing non-severe low blood sugar. But prompt medical assistance is still needed for severe hypoglycemia or when the 15-15 rule is ineffective. By understanding when and how to apply the 15-15 rule, people with diabetes can quickly take action to self-treat hypoglycemia and prevent it from becoming dangerous.

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