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HYPOGLYCEMIA

 

Hypoglycemia is a condition with low blood glucose or blood sugar levels. It arises due to the abnormalities in the mechanisms that break down the glucose molecules. Hypoglycemia is not confined to the age, but most often older adults and infants are at an increased risk.

The foods consumed are the biggest source of glucose. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose when the energy is needed. The serum glucose level below 70 mg/dL is considered as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Usually, hypoglycemia is the most common side effect of diabetic medications.

 

Signs and symptoms

The following are the signs and symptoms associated with hypoglycemia:

  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritability
  • Extreme hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unusual weakness
  • Trembling

Causes

  • Low-carbohydrate intake: The blood glucose levels would drop if enough amount of carbohydrates are not taken to match the diabetic medications.
  • Skipping meals: Delaying or skipping the regular meal could drop the blood sugar levels drastically.
  • Alcohol consumption: Consuming too much of alcohol with inadequate food intake can cause an imbalance in the blood sugar levels.
  • Physical activity: An increase in the regular physical activity than the normal routine can reduce the blood sugar levels.
  • Overproduction of insulin: Tumor of the pancreas may result in overproduction of insulin, which may lead to hypoglycemia.
  • Hormone deficiency: Disorders of the pituitary gland and adrenal gland can decrease the production of major hormones that coordinate glucose production.
  • Diabetic medications: Certain types of diabetic medications, such as sulfonylureas and meglitinides can cause hypoglycemia.

Risk factors

The factors that may increase your risk of hypoglycemia are:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having prediabetes
  • Lack of enough carbohydrates
  • Glucose-lowering drugs
  • Decreased glucose production
  • Renal impairment

Complications

If mild or low blood sugar levels are left untreated, it may lead to the following complications:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Damage to the nervous system

Severe hypoglycemia may cause life-threatening conditions such a brain damage. During extreme conditions, the brain functioning is hampered when there is lack of glucose. When the body is unable to warn the symptoms of low blood sugar such as irregular heartbeats, the complications can be life-threatening. This may lead to coma and can ultimately cause death.

Diagnosis

The doctor would review the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia and recommends certain tests to diagnose the condition. The diagnostic tests may include:

Blood test

Blood tests enable to diagnose the blood glucose levels of an individual. A sample of your blood is collected at different times of the day and tested for the blood glucose levels. The serum glucose level below 70 mg/dL is considered as hypoglycemia.

Glucose tolerance test involves a collection of the blood sample after 2 hours of having a sugary drink. This raises the insulin levels in the bloodstream, and these levels are decreased when the pancreases are unable to stimulate enough amount of insulin.

Hemoglobin A1c test is a 3-month average test, which helps to check if your blood sugar levels are controlled. The abnormal test results indicate that there is an altered production of insulin by the pancreas.

Treatment

A mild hypoglycemia can be treated by eating or drinking fast-acting carbohydrate foods. This helps in regaining the blood sugar levels immediately. The other treatment procedures may include:

  • Oral glucose tablets (dextrose) can make your blood glucose levels return to normal.
  • People with uncontrolled hypoglycemia are treated with insulin injections.
  • Intravenous glucose is administered to treat unconscious hypoglycemia patients.

Prevention

The following are the preventive measures to prevent hypoglycemia:

  • Eat regular meals to maintain your blood glucose levels constant.
  • Limit the use of alcoholic beverages as it can trigger hypoglycemia.
  • People with type 1 diabetes should always carry an artificial sweetener, such as candy bar.
  • A snack of at least 15gms of carbohydrates is recommended to keep up the blood sugar levels.
  • Check your blood glucose levels if symptoms of hypoglycemia are identified.  
  • Make sure to eat extra snacks and adjust your medication while performing an extra physical activity.
  • Always carry a prescribed dose of medication in case of hypoglycemia.
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