Hypoglycemia

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Overview

Hypoglycemia is a condition in which your blood sugar (glucose) level is lower than the standard range. Glucose is your body's main energy source. Hypoglycemia is often related to diabetes treatment. But other drugs and a variety of conditions — many rare — can cause low blood sugar in people who don't have diabetes.

Hypoglycemia is the medical term for low blood sugar, or glucose. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, the condition can be surprisingly difficult to diagnose and manage. Despite the fact that low blood sugar is most commonly associated with diabetes, you don’t have to have diabetes to experience episodes of hypoglycemia. Learning how to spot and treat it yourself before it progresses to an emergency is the most important step to prevent complications.

Symptoms

Looking pale.

Shakiness.

Sweating.

Headache.

Hunger or nausea.

An irregular or fast heartbeat.

Fatigue.

Irritability or anxiety.

Causes

Taking too much insulin or diabetes medication.

Not eating enough.

Postponing or skipping a meal or snack.

Increasing exercise or physical activity without eating more or adjusting your medications.

Drinking alcohol.

Risk factors

Some people have a greater risk of diabetic hypoglycemia, including:


People using insulin

People taking diabetes drugs called sulfonylureas, such as glipizide (Glucotrol), glimepiride (Amaryl) or glyburide (Diabeta, Glynase)

Young children and older adults

Those with impaired liver or kidney function

People who've had diabetes for a long time

People who don't feel low blood sugar symptoms (hypoglycemia unawareness)

Those taking multiple medications

Anyone with a disability that prevents a quick response to falling blood sugar levels

People who drink alcohol

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Complications

Severe hypoglycemia can cause accidents, injuries, coma, and may even prove fatal. Recent studies have associated severe hypoglycemia as a risk factor for dementia, falls, fractures, and heart attacks. The simplest solution under hypoglycemic conditions is to provide a sugar source to the patient.

Cardiovascular disease.

Nerve damage (neuropathy)

Kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy) or kidney failure.

Damage to the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy), potentially leading to blindness.

Prevention

To help prevent diabetic hypoglycemia:


Monitor your blood sugar. Depending on your treatment plan, you may check and record your blood sugar level several times a week or multiple times a day. Careful monitoring is the only way to make sure that your blood sugar level remains within your target range.

Don't skip or delay meals or snacks. If you take insulin or oral diabetes medication, be consistent about the amount you eat and the timing of your meals and snacks.

Measure medication carefully and take it on time. Take your medication as recommended by your health care provider.

Adjust your medication or eat additional snacks if you increase your physical activity. The adjustment depends on the blood sugar test results, the type and length of the activity, and what medications you take. Follow your diabetes treatment plan when making adjustments.

Eat a meal or snack with alcohol, if you choose to drink. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can cause hypoglycemia. Alcohol may also cause delayed hypoglycemia hours later, making blood sugar monitoring even more important.

Record your low glucose reactions. This can help you and your health care team identify patterns contributing to hypoglycemia and find ways to prevent them.

Carry some form of diabetes identification so that in an emergency others will know that you have diabetes. Use a medical identification necklace or bracelet and wallet card.