Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
What is hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia is a condition characterized by a glucose (blood sugar) level that is too low to effectively fuel the body's blood cells. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. According to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the ideal range of blood sugar is approximately 70 to 120 mg/dL (milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood). Blood sugar levels under 70 mg/dL are too low and are considered unhealthy.
Hypoglycemia may be a condition by itself, or may be a complication of diabetes or another disorder. It is most often seen as a complication of diabetes, which is sometimes referred to as insulin reaction.
What causes hypoglycemia?
Causes of hypoglycemia in people with diabetes may include the following:
Other causes of hypoglycemia are rare, but may occur in early pregnancy, after strenuous exercise, or during prolonged fasting. Hypoglycemia may also result from taking certain medications, abusing alcohol, or other rare causes, such as a tumor that produces insulin.
What are the symptoms of hypoglycemia?
The following are the most common symptoms of hypoglycemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. At times, there are no warning symptoms before loss of consciousness (hypoglycemia unawareness). The symptoms include:
Pale skin color
Sudden moodiness or behavior changes, such as crying for no apparent reason
Clumsy or jerky movements
Difficulty paying attention, or confusion
Tingling sensations around the mouth
Loss of consciousness
The symptoms of hypoglycemia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
How is hypoglycemia diagnosed?
In addition to a medical history and physical examination, certain blood tests are used to diagnose hypoglycemia.
When a person with diabetes has symptoms of hypoglycemia, then the cause is usually diagnosed as a complication of diabetes, or insulin reaction. It is often the result of the causes listed above.
For those who have symptoms of hypoglycemia and do not have diabetes, the disorder is diagnosed by:
Other laboratory tests to measure insulin, among other things, may also be performed.
What is the treatment for hypoglycemia?
Treatment depends on whether you can safely swallow or not. If you are unable to swallow safely, an injection of glucagon given by a family member or friend may help you avoid a trip to the ER.
How can hypoglycemia be prevented?
Specific measures to prevent hypoglycemia in the future depend on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
For people with diabetes, the goal of treatment is to maintain a blood sugar level that is appropriate for each individual. This involves testing blood sugar often, learning to recognize the warning signs of low blood sugar, and treating the condition quickly, based on prior instructions from the doctor.
To treat low blood sugar immediately, you should eat or drink something that has sugar in it, such as orange juice, milk, or a hard candy.
For people who do not have diabetes, treatment (as directed by a doctor) depends on the cause of hypoglycemia. Treatment may include surgery to remove an insulin-producing tumor causing hypoglycemia.
For hypoglycemia not caused by excess insulin produced from a tumor, treatment (as directed by your doctor) may include:
Avoiding foods high in carbohydrates
Eating smaller meals more frequently
Eating a variety of healthy foods
- Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician