What is Hypoglycemia? Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
What is Hypoglycemia?
Diabetic patients who take insulin to increase their level of blood sugar suffer from a condition known as hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a serious medical condition that can happen very fast and is characterized by low blood sugar levels. You are considered to have low blood sugar if the levels fall below 70mg/dL. If you notice signs of this condition, you should treat it immediately by eating food that is rich in sugar or carbohydrates. The disease can manifest itself through symptoms such as shakiness, headache, hunger, and dizziness. In some cases, you may not notice any symptoms of hypoglycemia. If this happens, you may develop a serious condition known as hypoglycemic unawareness. Hypoglycemic unawareness normally occurs in type 1 diabetic patients who are being treated with insulin.
Hypoglycemia arises when you skip meals, increase physical exercise or take too much drug. Therefore, if you do not consume enough glucose, your body cannot function properly. Glucose, which is a main source of energy, is absorbed into the blood after we eat. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help your body cells absorb glucose for energy. Without the help of insulin, glucose cannot be absorbed by the cells. When there is a rise in blood glucose levels, insulin will be released to help your cells absorb sugar for fuel and proper function. If there is extra sugar, it will be stored in the muscle and liver in glycogen form. This helps to lower blood sugar to prevent it from reaching high levels that are dangerous. In case you haven’t taken a meal for hours, your blood glucose levels may drop. When this happens, another hormone known as glucagon will be triggered to stimulate the liver to break down the stored glycogen into glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream. This will help you maintain normal blood sugar levels until you eat again.
People who are not undergoing insulin treatment have enough sugar in their bodies to help them manage their blood sugar levels. However, if you are using diabetic drugs in the short term, you may experience a drop in sugar levels. This can lead to serious health complications such as seizure and loss of consciousness.
Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia
You may not experience any signs or symptoms of low blood sugar until your blood glucose levels has fallen below 60 mg/dL. However, there are some people who develop signs of hypoglycemia at high levels, especially when their blood sugar drops suddenly.
Signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include:
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Concentration problems
- Loss of consciousness
- Slurred speech
- Blurry vision
If hypoglycemia is not treated, it may lead to serious health complications such as coma and seizure.
Causes of low blood sugar
Hypoglycemia happens when your blood sugar drops too low. This fall in blood sugars is as a result of different factors such as side effects of medicine used to treat diabetes. Diabetic patients who reduce their food intake so that they can lose weight may also have low blood sugar. Older patients who are using oral diabetes drugs like sulfonylureas are more likely to suffer from hypoglycemia compared to younger people.
Low blood sugar levels may also happen as a result of too much exercise. When you engage in excessive physical activity, more glucose will be used as a source of energy. This could lead to a fall in blood sugar levels. Consuming too little food can also lead to low blood sugar. People who have suffered from severe diabetes in the past are more prone to develop hypoglycemia, as a result of taking less food and exercising too much. This is because they produce less epinephrine and glucagon than is required to negate the effects of blood sugar falling too low.
Although not common, low blood sugar may also occur in people who do not have diabetes. The following are some of the reasons that can contribute to hypoglycemia.
Taking too much alcohol when you have diabetes may lead to a drop in blood sugar beyond the normal levels. However, this can also affect people without diabetes. Drinking excessively without taking a meal may block your liver from releasing glucose that is stored. This may lead to low blood sugar.
Severe liver problems may also cause hypoglycemia. If you are using medications and you have kidney problems, it may lead to a build up of those drugs in the body. This may lead to low blood sugar.
If you use a diabetic drug which is not prescribed for you, it may lead to low blood sugar. Other non-diabetic drugs such as pentamidine, which is used to treat pneumonia and quinine for malaria, can also cause hypoglycemia.
This refers to a tumor of pancrease that produces insulin in excess amounts. Excess insulin leads to low blood sugar levels. Other tumors such as hepatoma and mesothelioma may lead to the production of insulin like factors. This can cause hypoglycemia.
Low blood glucose treatment
You may undergo low blood sugar treatment to help bring your glucose levels to normal range. In case you are having low blood sugar, your doctor may advise you what to do. You can quickly treat falling blood sugar levels by taking a 15 to 20 g of carbohydrate foods. Some of the carbohydrate foods you can take include raisins, non diet soda, glucose gel, raisins, honey and hard candies. After taking these foods, check the level of your blood sugar after 15 minutes. In case it is still low, take another 15 to 20 g of carbohydrate food. If you are at risk of having severe hypoglycemia, you can keep a glucagon near you in case of an emergency. The administration of glucagon helps to stimulate the liver to release glucose in large amounts. Glucagon is usually taken through an injection and within 15 minutes, it can restore the blood glucose levels to appropriate levels.
How to prevent the disease
You can prevent hypoglycemia by checking your blood sugar levels regularly and educating a family member or friend about the medical condition and how they can use glucagon emergency kit to help you.
Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.