Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What is low blood sugar?

Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, can be a dangerous condition. Blood sugar is also known as glucose. Glucose comes from food and serves as a key energy source for the body. Foods rich in carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, bread, tortillas, cereal, fruit, vegetables, and milk — are the main source of glucose for the body.

Low blood sugar can affect people with diabetes who take medications that increase the levels of insulin in the body. Taking too much medication, skipping meals, eating less than normal, or exercising more than usual can lead to low blood sugar for these individuals.

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After you eat, glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream, where it travels to your body’s cells. A hormone called insulin, produced in the pancreas, helps your cells use glucose for energy. If you take more glucose than you require, your body will store it in your liver and muscles or convert it into fat so it can be used for energy when needed later.

Without enough glucose, your body cannot carry out its normal roles. People who aren’t on medications that increase insulin have enough glucose to maintain blood sugar levels, and the liver can produce glucose if required. However, for those on these specific medications, a short-term decrease in blood sugar can cause a lot of glitches. Your blood sugar is considered low when it drops below 70 mg/dL.

Symptoms of low blood sugar

Symptoms of low blood sugar can occur suddenly. They include:

If you have this condition, your blood sugar can drop without you noticing it. Without immediate treatment, you can faint, experience a seizure, or go into a coma.

First Aid for Low Blood Sugar

Very low blood sugar is a medical emergency. If someone you know has diabetes and they’re experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, give them 15 grams of easily digestible carbohydrates, such as:

  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 4 or 5 saltine crackers
  • half a cup of juice or regular soda
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 3 or 4 pieces of hard candy or glucose tablets

If someone is having a severe reaction, such as unconsciousness, it’s important to administer a medication called glucagon  and contact emergency services immediately.

Causes of low blood sugar

Low blood sugar can occur for a number of reasons. It’s usually a side effect of diabetes treatment.

READ ALSO: Eating More Meat Linked to Imbalances in Blood Sugar and Liver Disease

Diabetes and low blood sugar

Diabetes affects the ability of your body to use insulin. Insulin can be seen as the key that unlocks your cells, allowing glucose in for energy. People with diabetes use a variety of treatments to help their bodies use the glucose in their blood. Among these are oral medications that increase insulin production insulin injections.

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Excessive intake of these types of medications may cause your blood sugar to drop too low. People sometimes experience low blood sugar when planning to eat a big meal, but then they do not eat enough. Skipping meals, eating less than normal, or eating later than normal but taking your medication at your normal time can also lead to low levels of blood sugar.

Excess physical activity without eating enough can also cause a drop in blood sugar levels.

Intake of alcohol when you’re on these medications can also lead to low blood sugar, especially if it replaces food.

Other causes of low blood sugar

Apart from diabetes, some other causes of low blood sugar include:

  • certain medications, such as quinine
  • some medical conditions, such as kidney disorders or hepatitis
  • a tumor that produces excess insulin
  • endocrine disorders

How is low blood sugar diagnosed?

It’s important to check your blood sugar if you suspect you have low blood sugar. If you don’t have a meter and you’re on diabetes medications that increase insulin, talk to your doctor about getting a blood glucose meter.

If you often experience low blood sugar see your doctor to establish the cause. Your doctor will begin your visit by taking your medical history, asking questions about your eating habits, and learning more about your symptoms.

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If you don’t have diabetes but suspect you have hypoglycemia, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. They will perform a physical examination. They will use three criteria, sometimes referred to as “Whipple’s triad,” to diagnose hypoglycemia. These include:

  • Signs and symptoms of low blood sugar: Your doctor may require you to fast, or abstain from drinking and eating for a long period of time, to observe your low blood sugar symptoms.
  • Documentation of low blood sugar when your signs and symptoms occur: Your doctor will perform a blood testto examine your blood sugar levels in a lab.
  • Disappearance of the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar: Your doctor will want to know whether the symptoms go away when your blood sugar levels are raised.

Your doctor may send you home with a blood glucose meter — a small, handheld blood testing device to track your blood sugar at home. They will give you instructions to test your blood sugar during certain times of the day.

How are low blood sugar levels treated?

When your blood sugar levels are too low, eating something made of carbohydrates is vital. If you have diabetes, keep high-carbohydrate snacks handy. The American Diabetes Association recommends that your snack have at least 15 grams of carbohydrates. Some good snacks to keep on hand include:

  • cookies
  • granola bars
  • fruit juice
  • pretzels
  • fresh or dried fruit

You also can take glucose tablets to rapidly raise your blood sugar if it’s low.

Wait after eating or taking a glucose tablet for 15 minutes and test your blood sugar again. If your blood sugar is not going up, eat another 15 grams of carbohydrates or take another dose of glucose tablets. Repeat this until your blood sugar level starts to rise.

Note: Avoid overeating as this could lead to blood sugar levels that are too high.

Complications from spells of low blood sugar

Mildly low blood sugar levels are somewhat common for people with diabetes; however, severely low blood sugar levels can be life-threatening. They may lead to seizures and nervous system damage if left untreated long enough. Immediate treatment is critical. It’s important to learn to recognize your symptoms and treat them fast. For people at risk of low blood sugar, having a glucagon kit — a medication that raises blood sugar levels — is important. Talk to your doctor for more information.

You may also want to talk with friends, family members, exercise partners, and coworkers about how to care for you if your blood sugar drops too low. They should learn to recognize low blood sugar symptoms and know how to use the glucagon kit, as well as understand the importance of calling 911 if you lose consciousness.

Wearing a medical identification bracelet is a good idea. It can help emergency responders care for you properly if you need emergency attention.

Treat low blood sugar as soon as possible. Avoid driving if you are experiencing low blood sugar, as it can increase your risk of having an accident.

Preventing Low Blood Sugar

There are several ways that you can prevent low blood sugar.

Check often

Checking your blood sugar level regularly can help you keep it in your target range. If you’ve had low blood sugar episodes in the past, you may wish to check your blood sugar levels before driving or operating machinery. Discuss with your doctor about when and how often you should check your blood sugar.

Snack smart

Eat a snack before you leave your home, if you know it will be more than five hours until your next full meal or if your blood sugar levels are less than 100 mg/dL. It would be best to keep carbohydrate-rich snacks handy at all times in case your blood sugar drops.

Fuel during exercise

Exercise burns up energy, so it can quickly cause your blood sugar to drop if you haven’t eaten correctly beforehand. First, check your blood sugar one to two hours before exercise to make sure it’s within your target range before engaging in exercise.

If it’s too low, eat a small meal or snack rich in carbohydrates. If you plan to exercise for an hour or more, consume additional carbohydrates during your workout. Exercise gels, sports drinks, granola bars, and even candy bars can provide the body with a quick burst of glucose during exercise. Work with your doctors to come up with the program that will be appropriate for you.


Disclaimer: The content provided on healthdiary365.com is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.


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