Hypoglycemia

By:    Published: November 3, 2011

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Hypoglycemia is a condition caused by low blood sugar. It most commonly occurs in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but can occur in people with certain enzyme deficiencies or have insulin-producing tumors. Certain medications may also trigger this condition.

Hypoglycemia results when your blood glucose level drops too low. This causes the liver to release sugar, which, in turn, causes insulin production to drop. A hypoglycemic episode can be mild to severe, depending on what type of hypoglycemia you have.

Symptoms

The symptoms of mild hypoglycemia consist of:

  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating

Symptoms of moderate hypoglycemia also include:

  • Nervousness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Unsteadiness
  • Trouble walking
  • Feeling short-tempered

Severe hypoglycemia has the most serious symptoms, which include:

  • Losing consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Severe hypoglycemia may result in a coma or even death if not treated correctly. Hypoglycemic individuals may also experience other symptoms such as headaches, palpitations and trouble speaking. If a person has an attack at night, he or she may sweat clean through bed sheets or clothing, have nightmares or cry out during the night. Individuals suffering from hypoglycemia can expect to see these symptoms when their blood sugar level drops to the mid-60s.

Diagnosis

Doctors can diagnose hypoglycemia through a combination of medical history, physical exams and blood tests. If the tests show that you have low blood sugar levels and symptoms of hypoglycemia that go away once sugar is consumed, then you more than likely have hypoglycemia.

Treatment

When an attack of hypoglycemia occurs, it's important to consume glucose, or sugar, before the symptoms get progressively worse. It is recommended that 15 grams of glucose be taken, which can come from a half-can of soda or juice, a serving of hard candy, or even four tablespoons of sugar. If symptoms do not subside after 10 minutes, another 15 grams of sugar should be consumed. If it does not help this time, seek medical attention immediately.

If your blood sugar level does stabilize after the 15 grams of glucose have been consumed, it's best to eat something with long-lasting carbohydrates, such as a sandwich, so that your blood sugar level doesn't drop again.

If your blood sugar level does not stabilize after consuming glucose, then more drastic measures will have to be taken. A shot of glucagon will have to be administered to you immediately, preferably by a friend or family member who knows how to give the shot. If a response is seen, eat something with long-acting carbohydrates. If a response is not seen, emergency medical services should be contacted immediately.

How to Manage Hypoglycemia

Having hypoglycemia means that you have to make certain lifestyle changes and gather a support system of friends and family who can learn how to help you should you have an attack. Here are some tips on how to manage your life with hypoglycemia:

  • Keep a source of glucose close by. Carry a small pack of candy in your pocket or purse and keep a can of juice or soda in your car or office.
  • Wear an identification tag that states that you have diabetes and/or hypoglycemia. That way, if you're alone and have an attack in public, someone can get help for you immediately.
  • Monitor your blood sugar levels often, and make sure you check them before driving a car, operating heavy machinery or conducting and strenuous exercise. Also monitor your medications and alcohol consumption.

Prevention

Managing your condition is the best way to keep attacks at bay. However, there are some things you can do to ensure your blood sugar level stays in the proper range:

  • Eat regularly and don't skip meals. It's suggested that those suffering from hypoglycemia should eat six small meals a day instead of three large meals.
  • Monitor what you're eating and how much exercise you're getting. If you are a diabetic who has been getting enough exercise and not enough food, then you're at a greater risk of developing hypoglycemia.
  • Eat enough food at every meal and eat well-balanced meals.
  • Don't eat sugary foods on an empty stomach. This goes for people with and without diabetes or hypoglycemia. Eating sugar on an empty stomach causes your blood sugar level to rise rapidly, which causes insulin levels to drop. The end result is a rapid decrease in your blood sugar level.

Having diabetes can be challenging, but knowing that you may be at risk for hypoglycemia can make that challenge seem even tougher. But as long as you monitor your blood sugar level, eat right and take the proper precautions, your chances of a hypoglycemic attack will be greatly diminished.

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