Your blood sugar levels may vary throughout the day and it is a normal phenomenon. However, if your blood sugar levels fall drastically below the normal range, you might experience a condition called hypoglycemia, seen commonly in diabetics. What is hypoglycemia? What are its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment? Find out all about it here.
Hypoglycemia, also known as low blood glucose or low blood sugar, is a condition in which your blood glucose levels drop below the target range for a healthy individual. For most people, hypoglycemia is defined as a blood glucose level lower than 70 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).
Hypoglycemia is most common in people with diabetes. However, in rare cases, it can occur due to non-diabetic causes as well. Hypoglycemia that is not self-treatable and needs medical attention is referred to as severe hypoglycemia.
Among the causes of hypoglycemia, the most common is diabetes.
In Type 1 diabetes, you may not make insulin and in Type 2 diabetes, you may be less responsive to it. Due to this, your blood glucose levels can reach extremely high levels. To treat diabetes and lower your blood sugar levels, you may need to take insulin injections or other medications. Too much insulin or other diabetes medications may cause your blood sugar levels to drop extremely low, causing hypoglycemia.
In diabetes, hypoglycemia can also occur if you eat less or later than usual or skip your meals after taking your regular dosage of diabetes medication. If you indulge in unusually high physical activity without eating enough or drink alcohol while you are on diabetes medications, it can cause hypoglycemia.
Less commonly, hypoglycemia can occur in people without diabetes as well. Causes include:
The symptoms of hypoglycemia can start quickly, and different people may have different symptoms. Also, as hypoglycemia worsens, its symptoms may change.
The early signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
As hypoglycemia worsens, you may experience the following symptoms:
You may not have any symptoms when your blood sugar is low. This situation is called hypoglycemia unawareness. You may need to check your blood sugar levels more often or use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to alert you when your blood sugar level is too low.
If you are a diabetic, have the related symptoms, and suspect that you may be hypoglycemic, check your blood sugar levels with a blood glucose meter. People with hypoglycemia unawareness may need to use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). It is a wearable device that measures glucose every few minutes, throughout the day and night. If your blood sugar drops too low, it sounds an alarm.
If you are not a diabetic and do not use any medications known to cause hypoglycemia, but are experiencing hypoglycemia symptoms, consult a doctor at the earliest. To diagnose hypoglycemia, your doctor may conduct a physical examination, review your medical history, and ask questions about your eating habits.
Your doctor may use three criteria, referred to as “Whipple’s triad,” to diagnose hypoglycemia:
If you experience one or more symptoms of hypoglycemia and check that your blood glucose level is below 70 mg/dL, follow these steps. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends the “15-15 rule” for an episode of hypoglycemia:
Treatment of Severe Hypoglycemia
Blood sugar below 55 mg/dL is considered severely low. You will not be able to treat yourself and will need external help to recover from severe hypoglycemia. Glucagon, a pancreatic hormone that stimulates your liver to release stored glucose into your bloodstream, is used to treat someone with diabetes when their blood sugar is too low to treat using the 15-15 rule.
Glucagon is available by prescription and is either injected, administered or puffed into the nostril. Your doctor can prescribe a glucagon kit for use in case of an emergency. Family and friends also need to know where to find the kit and how to use it. It is important to contact a doctor for emergency medical treatment immediately after receiving a glucagon injection.
If you are helping someone who is hypoglycemic, and there is no glucagon kit available, contact a doctor immediately.
Treatment of Non-Diabetes Hypoglycemia
For recurrent hypoglycemia episodes when the cause is not diabetes-related, it is advisable to consult your doctor to identify the condition causing hypoglycemia and treat it. Depending on the cause, treatment may involve:
If untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to complications such as:
If you are a diabetic, it is important to manage diabetes to prevent hypoglycemia. Remember to:
If you do not have diabetes and get recurring episodes of hypoglycemia, eat small and frequent meals throughout the day to prevent your blood sugar levels from going too low. However, it is also important to consult a doctor at the earliest to identify and treat the cause of hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia are different conditions.
Hypoglycemia is when there is too little glucose in the blood, below 70 mg/dL.
Hyperglycemia is a condition in which the blood glucose levels are too high, more than 125 mg/dL when a person is fasting and more than 180 mg/dL two hours after eating. This happens when the body has too little insulin or cannot use the insulin properly. Hyperglycemia is most often present in diabetes.
Consult a doctor immediately for help if:
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