Hypoglycemia

Also indexed as:Blood Sugar (Low), Low Blood Sugar, Reactive Hypoglycemia
When blood-sugar levels fall fast, symptoms such as fatigue and anxiety may arise. Simple changes can control many cases of hypoglycemia. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
Hypoglycemia: Main Image

About This Condition

“Hypoglycemia” is the medical term for low blood sugar (glucose).

People with diabetes who use medications, particularly insulin, to control their blood glucose sometimes develop hypoglycemia. This can be caused by not having a stable intake of carbs—not eating enough of them, eating them erratically, or not adjusting for an increase in physical activity—to balance the blood glucose-lowering effect of these medications.1, 2

Early symptoms of hypoglycemia typically come on quickly and can include shakiness, anxiety, irritability, hunger, confusion, light headedness, and rapid heartbeat, but some people do not experience or detect these early symptoms.3 Hypoglycemia can contribute to falls, accidents, and other kinds of injuries; if untreated, it can progress from severe confusion to unconsciousness, seizure, coma, or even death.4 In addition, over time, people with diabetes who have repeated episodes of hypoglycemia appear to have a higher risk of dementia.5

People who use insulin to control their diabetes can generally prevent hypoglycemia by using their insulin as prescribed and sticking to an eating pattern that provides the same amounts of carbs at the same times each day. Using a blood glucose monitor can help people identify when their blood glucose is getting low so they can take steps to prevent hypoglycemia. Alcohol makes controlling blood glucose levels with insulin difficult, so drinking alcohol in moderation is best.6

People with diabetes using diabetes medications other than insulin can usually prevent hypoglycemia by eating on a regular schedule, making wise food choices, and having a consistent exercise program. Fasting for lab tests, delaying meals, increasing physical activity, and sleeping are examples of situations that increase the risk of hypoglycemia. Being aware of the risks, watching for symptoms, and monitoring blood glucose can help people with diabetes act fast to avoid hypoglycemia.7

Symptoms

Common symptoms of hypoglycemia are fatigue, anxiety, headaches, difficulty concentrating, sweaty palms, shakiness, excessive hunger, drowsiness, abdominal pain, and depression.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

According to the American Diabetes Association, untreated hypoglycemia carries potentially serious health risks. Fortunately, acute hypoglycemia is simple to treat, requiring only nourishment to balance the blood sugar. After using glucose test to confirm that blood sugar is low:

  1. Consume 15 to 20 grams of glucose or simple carbohydrates
  2. Recheck blood glucose after 15 minutes. If hypoglycemia continues, repeat.
  3. Once blood glucose returns to normal, eat a small snack if your next planned meal or snack is more than an hour or two away.

Stay prepared to support your blood sugar stability by keeping 15 grams of simple carbohydrates on hand:

  • glucose tablets (follow package instructions)
  • gel tube (follow package instructions)
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of juice or regular soda (not diet)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, honey, or corn syrup 8 ounces of nonfat or 1% milk
  • hard candies, jellybeans, or gumdrops (see package to determine how many to consume)

Of course, be sure to discuss your hypoglycemia plan with your doctor first, so that it is tailored to your individual circumstances.

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2017.