Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)

What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is the condition of having a glucose (blood sugar) level that is too low to effectively fuel the body's blood cells. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. The normal range of blood sugar is approximately 70 to 120 mg/dl (milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood). When the level is below 45 mg/dl, a serious condition is suspected.

Hypoglycemia may be a condition by itself, or may be a complication of diabetes or other disorders. It is most often seen as a complication of diabetes, which is sometimes referred to as insulin reaction.

What causes hypoglycemia?

There are many different possible causes of hypoglycemia, including:

  • diabetics taking too much insulin to lower the blood sugar
  • other drugs used to treat diseases such as AIDS-related pneumonia
  • psychological disturbances
  • alcohol consumption without eating adequately
  • diabetics who miss a meal or exercise too strenuously
  • insulin-producing tumor in the pancreas

What are symptoms of hypoglycemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of hypoglycemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • shakiness
  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • hunger
  • headache
  • irritability
  • pale skin color
  • sudden moodiness or behavior changes, such as crying for no apparent reason
  • clumsy or jerky movements
  • difficulty paying attention, or confusion
  • tingling sensations around the mouth

Extremely low blood sugar can induce a coma. The symptoms of hypoglycemia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is hypoglycemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for hypoglycemia may include blood tests to measure blood sugar levels and insulin levels.

Treatment for hypoglycemia:

Consuming sugar when experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia usually provides relief. Specific treatment for hypoglycemia will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may also include taking glucagon, a protein hormone secreted by the pancreas to stimulate the liver to produce glucose. If the hypoglycemia is a result of an insulin-producing tumor in the pancreas, the tumor is usually removed surgically. Chronic hypoglycemia in persons without diabetes may benefit from eating frequent, small meals.

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