What is hypoglycemia? Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar occurs when your body has less glucose available than it needs for fuel. Hypoglycemia can be caused by certain medications, exercise, diet or medical conditions. It happens more frequently in people who have diabetes. It is a good idea to keep track of when your hypoglycemia occurs and what you are doing at that time. Providing this information to your doctor can help to determine the underlying reason for your hypoglycemia and find the best treatment plans. If you experience two or more episodes of hypoglycemia within a week, contact your doctor.
What Is Hypoglycemia?
What is hypoglycemia? How does it happen? Hypoglycemia occurs when the level of blood sugar or glucose in your body becomes too low. Your body uses blood sugar as its primary source of energy. Although hypoglycemia is often related to diabetes treatment, it can happen to people without diabetes as well. Hypoglycemia itself is not a disease but a symptom. Similar to having a fever, it indicates that something is wrong with your health. It is important to treat episodes of hypoglycemia right away with medications or by eating foods high in sugar. Bear in mind that the normal range of blood sugar level is 70-100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or 3.9-5.6 mmol/L (millimoles per liter).
What Are the Symptoms of Hypoglycemia?
In order to function, your body needs a constant supply of sugar. When there is not enough sugar available for your body to draw from, you can experience lots of symptoms:
Warning: First, for safety, do not drive when you have low blood sugar. Second, these symptoms may occur with conditions other than hypoglycemia, so with these symptoms you should do blood test to find out the reason. Third, it is important to seek professional help immediately if you experience the above mentioned symptoms, if you have diabetes but your hypoglycemia symptoms don’t get better after eating sugar-rich food or taking glucose tablets, or if someone with diabetes or recurrent episodes of hypoglycemia becomes unconscious.
How Does Your Body Regulate Blood Sugar?
In order to understand hypoglycemia better, it is important to understand how blood sugar is regulated by your body. When your body digests food, carbohydrates are broken down into different sugar molecules like glucose and used by your body as primary source of energy. Glucose enters your bloodstream and then insulin, a hormone made in your pancreas, helps it to be absorbed by cells throughout your body. Excess glucose is stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen in order to keep your blood glucose levels from becoming too high. If your blood sugar drops, glycogen is broken down into glucose and released into your blood.
What Causes Hypoglycemia?
Now that we have known "what is hypoglycemia" and how body regulates its blood sugar, it's time to find out the causes of hypoglycemia.
1. Hypoglycemia Related to Diabetes
People with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or have cells that do not react normally to it, which leads to high level of glucose in the bloodstream. You can inject insulin or take other medications to lower glucose levels in the blood. If too much medication is taken, less food is taken in, or more energy is used than expected, hypoglycemia may occur. So work with your doctor to ensure that your medication dosage coincides with your eating habits and activity levels.
Hypoglycemia can take place if diabetic medication is accidently taken by someone else. It can also be a side effect of other medications, such as quinine, a medication used to treat malaria.
3. Too Much Alcohol
If too much alcohol is consumed without eating, the liver can become blocked and therefore become unable to breakdown and release glucose that has been stored, causing blood sugar levels to drop.
4. Underlying Diseases
- Some liver diseases, including severe hepatitis, can cause blood sugar levels to drop.
- Adrenal or pituitary gland disorders can result in the lack of kidney hormones that regulate the production of glucose, leading to hypoglycemia, especially in children.
- Kidney disorders and kidney failure can cause medications to build up, leading to low glucose levels.
- Starvation over time, such as in the case of anorexia nervosa, can cause body substances required for gluconeogenesis to deplete, resulting in hypoglycemia.
- Certain tumors, such as insulinoma, can cause too much insulin or insulin-like secretions to be produced. Some tumors may use an excessive amount of glucose. If the beta cells located in the pancreas become enlarged, a condition known as nesidioblastosis, insulin production may be increased and hypoglycemia happens.