Hypoglycemia: causes, symptoms and treatment
Hypoglycemia is a condition where your blood glucose level is below the normal range. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy.
Hypoglycemia is often related to diabetes treatment. However, there are other types of medications and various conditions, many of them rare, that can cause low blood glucose in people who do not have diabetes.
Hypoglycemia requires immediate treatment. For many people, a fasting blood glucose level of 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 3.9 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), or less should be a red flag for hypoglycemia. But your numbers could be different. Consult the health care provider.
Treatment consists of rapidly returning blood glucose levels to normal, either with a high-sugar food or drink, or with medication. Long-term treatment requires identifying and treating the underlying cause of the hypoglycemia.
If blood glucose levels drop too low, signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia may include:
Pale color Shaking Sweating Headache Hunger or nausea Fast or irregular heartbeat Fatigue Irritability or anxiety Difficulty concentrating Dizziness or lightheadedness Tingling or numbness of the lips, tongue, or cheek
As hypoglycemia worsens, signs and symptoms may include:
Disorientation, unusual behavior, or both, such as the inability to complete routine tasks Loss of coordination Slurred speech Blurred or tunnel vision Nightmares, if asleep
Severe hypoglycemia can cause the following:
Unresponsiveness (loss of consciousness) Seizures
Seek immediate medical attention in the following cases:
You have what might be symptoms of hypoglycemia and you do not have diabetes You have diabetes and your hypoglycemia does not respond to treatment, such as drinking juice or regular (non-diet) soft drinks, eating candy, or taking glucose tablets
Seek emergency help for someone with diabetes or a history of hypoglycemia who has symptoms of severe hypoglycemia or loses consciousness.
If you have symptoms of hypoglycemia, your health care provider will likely do a physical exam and review your medical history.
If you use insulin or another diabetes medication to lower blood glucose and have signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, check your blood glucose levels with a meter. If the result shows a low blood glucose level (less than 70 mg/dl), treat yourself according to your diabetes treatment plan.
Keep a record of your blood glucose test results and how you treated low blood glucose so your healthcare provider can review the information and adjust your diabetes treatment plan.
If you are not using medications known to cause hypoglycemia, your health care provider will want to know the following:
What were your signs and symptoms? If you don’t have signs or symptoms of hypoglycemia during your initial visit with your healthcare provider, you may be told to fast overnight or longer. This will allow symptoms of low blood glucose to manifest in order to make a diagnosis. You may also need to undergo a prolonged fast, up to 72 hours, in a hospital. What is your blood glucose level when you have symptoms? The health care provider will draw a blood sample that will be analyzed in the laboratory. If symptoms occur after eating, blood glucose tests may be done after you eat. Do your symptoms go away when blood glucose levels rise?
If you have symptoms of hypoglycemia, do the following:
Eat or drink 15 to 20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates. These are sugary foods or drinks with no protein or fat that are easily converted to sugar in the body. Try glucose tablets or gel, fruit juice, regular (not diet) soft drinks, honey, or sugary candy. Recheck blood glucose levels 15 minutes after treatment. If blood glucose levels remain below 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L ), eat or drink another 15 to 20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates and recheck blood glucose. blood in 15 minutes. Repeat these steps until your blood glucose is above 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L ). Have a snack or eat a meal. Once your blood glucose returns to normal, eating a healthy snack or meal can help prevent another drop and help replenish your body’s glycogen stores.
Hypoglycemia is considered severe if you need someone’s help to recover. For example, if you can’t eat, you may need an injection of glucagon or intravenous glucose.
In general, people who have diabetes and are taking insulin treatment should have a glucagon kit for emergencies. Family and friends should know where to find the kit and how to use it in an emergency.
If you are helping someone who is unconscious, do not try to give them food or drink. If a glucagon kit is not available or you don’t know how to use it, call for emergency medical help.
To prevent recurrent hypoglycemia, the health care provider must identify the condition causing it and treat it. Depending on the cause, treatment may include the following:
Nutrition counseling. A review of eating habits and meal planning with a registered dietitian may help reduce hypoglycemia. Medicines. If a medication is causing your hypoglycemia, your health care provider will likely suggest that you add, change, or stop taking the medication, or change the dose. Tumor treatment. Tumors in the pancreas are usually treated by surgical removal. In some cases, it is necessary to give medicines to control hypoglycemia or to remove a part of the pancreas.
With information from Mayo Clinic