Glucose or blood sugar is the body’s primary source of energy. It is normal for your blood sugar to fluctuate throughout the day. While your blood sugar or glucose will vary within a certain range, it can start to become dangerous once it drops below the limits of what’s considered healthy. Having low blood glucose, also known as hypoglycemia, occurs when your blood glucose levels drop so low, you will need to start a hypoglycemia management plan to raise them back up to a normal level.
While you may need to talk to your physician about your own personal target glucose levels, the usual level where hypoglycemia starts is 70 mg/dL.
SYMPTOMS OF HYPOGLYCEMIA
Having low blood glucose can happen quickly. However, the symptoms of low blood sugar can vary from person to person. It is necessary to a have hypoglycemia management plan in place to recognize the symptoms of low blood glucose before the symptoms become severe. Some of the common signs of low blood glucose include:
Being nervous or anxious
Sweating, chills, and clamminess
Irritability or impatience
Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
Color draining from the skin (pallor)
Feeling weak or having no energy
Tingling or numbness in the lips, tongue, or cheeks
Coordination problems, clumsiness
Nightmares or crying out during sleep
To confirm that you are suffering from low blood sugar, check your blood glucose with a blood glucose meter. Having hypoglycemia is usually a result of treating your diabetes through medication. However, if you have not been diagnosed with diabetes but are experiencing the symptoms of hypoglycemia, you should see a doctor immediately.
Once you start to reach lower levels of blood glucose, your body starts to release adrenaline, resulting in hypoglycemia symptoms. If these levels continue to drop and your brain doesn’t have enough sugar to function, you may start to experience slurred speech or move clumsily. People experiencing severe symptoms often appear intoxicated. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, a coma, or even death, due to the lack of energy being supplied to the brain.
If you notice that you are experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia, do not drive or operate machinery. Put your hypoglycemia management plan to work and pull over and check your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar is low, eat sugary food such as candy or fruit juice. Wait at least 15 minutes after eating before you check your sugar levels again and if they are back in the normal range, you should be alright to drive.
Although they are unpleasant, reoccurring symptoms of hypoglycemia warn you that your current hypoglycemia management plan needs to be altered. However, experiencing hypoglycemia repeatedly over time can result in your body developing hypoglycemia unawareness.
Hypoglycemia unawareness occurs when your body stops responding to these symptoms of low blood glucose. The result is an increased risk of life-threatening symptoms occurring when your blood sugar levels drop because they don’t know they need to treat it.
If you suffer from hypoglycemia unawareness, you need to make sure that you’re regularly checking your blood glucose levels if you have diabetes. If you suffer from this condition, consider getting a continuous glucose monitor that will beep when your levels are falling. That is a smart hypoglycemia management plan! Also, let your doctor know if you think you have it so your provider can adjust your glucose targets to avoid future episodes of hypoglycemia.
Also, if you are frequently experiencing low blood glucose or have hypoglycemia unawareness, especially if you use insulin, you should consider wearing a medical ID at all times. During an emergency, your ID can give vital information about your medical status, the types of medications that you use, whether you have any allergies and any other important information that is needed for treatment.
Fortunately, it is possible to regain early warning symptoms in a few weeks through hypoglycemia management. By avoiding low sugar your body re-learns how to trigger any warnings that your levels are low. This can be achieved by raising your target glucose level with your physician. Your A1C levels may increase temporarily but you will regain the ability to detect low blood glucose levels.
CAUSES OF HYPOGLYCEMIA
It is important to understand how the body processes blood sugar in order to understand how hypoglycemia happens.
When you eat, your body converts the carbs that you eat into glucose, the main source of your body’s energy. However, blood glucose can’t enter your cells without the help of insulin. It allows glucose to enter the cells and provide energy to function and if there’s any excess left over, it is then stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen.
When you haven’t eaten for a while and your blood sugar levels drop, your body’s own hypoglycemia management plan goes into effect and tells your pancreas to release a hormone called glucagon. It tells your liver to release the extra glycogen being stored. This is how your blood sugar stays within your normal blood glucose range. However, if you are a type 1 diabetic, you don’t make enough insulin or if you’re type 2, you’re less responsive to it. As a result, you end up with excessive amounts of glucose in your bloodstream. This is why you must take insulin to regulate your levels, but accidentally taking too much can result in your low blood glucose.
However, people who do not have diabetes can also experience hypoglycemia, although this is less common. This can be due to diet, exercise, medicine, or illnesses.
Medicine: Taking someone’s diabetes medicine can result in someone experiencing low blood sugar. Also, if you are a child or have kidney problems, treating malaria with quinine may also cause you to experience this condition as well. Also, some pneumonia medications are known to cause hypoglycemia in some patients.
Alcohol: Binge drinking alcohol can also lead to experiencing hypoglycemia. This is due to alcohols ability to block the liver from releasing glucose into your blood. This usually occurs when you drink on an empty stomach.
Chronic conditions: Having liver disease can cause your blood glucose levels to drop significantly. One reason is that liver disorders can prevent your liver from releasing your medications into your bloodstream, causing a buildup which affects your glucose levels. Also, if you suffer from anorexia and aren’t eating properly, you can experience a lack of glucose due to the absence of substances needed to produce glucose.
Hormone deficiencies: Having disorders in your adrenal glands may affect your glucose production. This is due to a lack of cortisol which elevates your blood sugar. Also, children who have a growth hormone deficiency may also experience hypoglycemia.
Also, if you’ve noticed that you get hypoglycemia symptoms after you eat, you may be suffering from reactive hypoglycemia. This condition occurs when your blood sugar drops within 4 hours after eating a meal. It is believed to be caused by the pancreas releasing too much insulin after consuming a high-carb meal. Although this condition can happen in individuals with and without diabetes, it’s more common in people who are overweight or have had gastric bypass.
If you are suffering from hypoglycemia, there are several steps that you can take to increase your blood glucose back to normal, healthy levels. However, the best hypoglycemia management plan will vary, depending on if you are treating initial, immediate symptoms or the underlying cause of reoccurring hypoglycemia.
Depending on your symptoms, your initial treatment will be “the 15-15 rule” which will focus on eating at least 15-20 grams of carbohydrates that will quickly restore your glucose levels. You should choose fast-acting carbs that will not take long to convert to sugar, such as glucose tablets, fruit juice, sodas, or candy. Try not to focus on foods that are high in protein or fats because those will not give you the carbs needed to quickly raise your glucose level.
After 15 minutes, check your blood sugar to see if your glucose has increased beyond 70 mg/dL. If it’s still too low, eat 15-20 more grams of carbs then check it again in another 15 minutes. Continue these steps to temporarily treat your hypoglycemia and raise your blood sugar above 70 mg/dL.
Young children will need a different treatment option. They usually need fewer carbs to fix their sugar levels. Infants will need around 6 grams, toddlers will need around 8, and small children will need to eat around 10 grams. However, this will vary with each individual.
If someone is suffering from severe symptoms of hypoglycemia, it is important to avoid treating them by food or drink if they are unconscious. This could lead to them choking or aspirating the food into their lungs. Instead, treat them with an injection of glucagon or intravenous glucose into the buttock, arm, or thigh. Glucagon activates their liver to release stored glucose in their bloodstream, raising their sugar levels.
DO NOT GIVE THEM INSULIN, WHICH COULD RESULT IN EVEN LOWER LEVELS OF GLUCOSE.
diabetes, insulin, syringe
When they wake up, they may experience vomiting or nausea. Don’t hesitate to call 911 or take them to the nearest hospital for treatment if needed.
Once your blood sugar levels are back to normal, you should eat a full meal to restore your glycogen stored in your liver. They may be depleted while you were experiencing hypoglycemia.
For people who have diabetes and frequently experience hypoglycemia, your hypoglycemia management should include investing in an at-home glucagon kit for emergencies. Family and friends should know where this kit is and taught how to use it, just in case.
You should also consider speaking to your doctor to find out what the cause of your reoccurring hypoglycemia may be. One possible reason could be your medication. You may need to change the type of medication or the dosage. Another reason could be a tumor. Have your physician check your pancreas. A pancreatic tumor can be treated by removing parts of it through surgery.
The best way to prevent low blood glucose is through hypoglycemia management. By using a continuous glucose monitor, you can check on your levels throughout the day and prevent an episode.
If you have diabetes, ways you can prevent hypoglycemia include:
Making sure that you follow the meal plan set by your diabetes management team or health care provider
Exercise at least 30 minutes to an hour after you eat. Make sure you monitor your levels before and after your workout.
It’s best to eat your meals spaced out, avoiding eating meal no further than 4 to 5 hours apart
Monitor your levels if you are drinking alcohol
Check your sugar levels before you go to bed
Carefully monitor your levels if you have recently changed your medication
In conclusion, diabetic management is important for treating and preventing hypoglycemia. People who have diabetes are more prone to experiencing low blood sugar. However, people who have not been diagnosed with diabetes can also experience hypoglycemia because of their diet or a medical condition.
If you do suffer from reoccurring hypoglycemia episodes, it is important to inform your doctor so that you can find a solution. By letting your hypoglycemia go untreated, you risk hypoglycemia unawareness and your body will stop responding to low glucose symptoms. This can result in severe symptoms or even lead to death.
In the case of emergencies, you should consider getting an at-home glucagon kit, which will allow you to inject glucagon or intravenous glucose into the bloodstream, allowing you to recover for severe symptoms of hypoglycemia, such as unconsciousness. Also, you should inform your friends and family how to use this kit.
Lastly, if you’ve been experiencing persistent low blood sugar, start documenting your blood glucose levels, the amount of insulin you use, how frequently you exercise, and what you’ve been eating. This data can help your physician understand what’s causing your low glucose and create a treatment plan that prevents it from happening in the future.
What methods do you use to manage your low blood sugar? If you found these tips to be helpful, let your friends know on social media.