Welcome to my latest blog post, where I explore the ins and outs of hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by abnormally low blood sugar levels. Whether you’re living with diabetes, caring for someone who is, or simply interested in health and wellness, understanding hypoglycemia is crucial. This condition can affect anyone and manifests through a variety of symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to severe health emergencies. Join me as I explore the causes, symptoms, prevention strategies, and management tips to help you stay informed and prepared.

Blood Sugar

When you eat carbohydrates, they get broken down in your digestive system and absorbed into the blood as glucose (a type of sugar). Although, it’s normal for your blood glucose levels to vary at different times during the day depending on whether you’ve eaten, or how active you are. However, managing blood sugar levels is crucial for maintaining overall health, particularly for individuals with diabetes.

Two common conditions related to blood sugar are hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. While both involve blood sugar imbalances, they represent opposite extremes and require different approaches for management. Here’s a closer look at hypoglycemia.

What is Hypoglycemia?

For a diabetic patient, hypoglycemia (or hypo) is a condition in which your blood sugar (glucose) level is below 3.9 mmol/L or 70 mg/dL.

For non-diabetic people, hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar level is below 55 mg/dL or 3.1 mmol/L.

But your numbers might be different. Ask your health care provider.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, usually affects people with diabetes who take insulin or some other diabetes medicines. It’s rare in people without diabetes. Common symptoms include:

  • feeling hungry
  • feeling dizzy
  • feeling anxious or irritable
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • tingling lips
  • heart palpitations
  • feeling tired or weak
  • changes in your vision such as blurred vision
  • feeling confused
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

 If you have severe low blood sugar you may:

  • have a seizure or fit
  • become unconscious

Causes of Hypoglycemia

This condition can be caused by taking too much insulin, having problems with the way you inject insulin (such as injecting in the same place too often), missing or delaying meals, not eating enough carbohydrate, excessive physical activity, or drinking alcohol without eating enough food. Sometimes it’s not clear why it happens.

It’s rare to get low blood sugar if you do not have diabetes. It can sometimes be caused by conditions including:

  •  malnutrition
  • a growth (tumour) in your pancreas
  • Addison’s disease
  • medications (quinine)
  • long-term starvation
  • insulin overproduction
  • hormone deficiencies

Management of Hypoglycemia

Immediate treatment: Treatment involves quickly getting your blood sugar back to within the standard range either with a high-sugar food or drink or with medication. Consume fast-acting carbohydrates that will raise your blood sugar quickly, such as a small glass of fruit juice or sugary fizzy drink, 5 glucose or dextrose tablets, 4 large jelly babies, or 2 tubes of glucose gel.

The Rule of 15

Medical professionals often recommend treating mild low blood sugar (3.1 to 3.8 mmol/L or 55 to 69 mg/dL) by following the rule of 15, also known as the 15-15 rule. Here is how you can follow the rule:

  1. Consume 15 g of simple carbohydrates, such as glucose tablets or orange juice.
  2. Wait 15 minutes and measure your blood sugar levels again.
  3. If your blood sugar is still between 3.1 to 3.8 mmol/L or 55 to 69 mg/dL, consume another 15 g of carbohydrates.
  4. Keep repeating until your blood sugar is above 3.9 mmol/L or 70 mg/dL.

Young children often don’t need 15 g of carbohydrates. According to the American Diabetes Association

  •  infants may only need 6 g
  • toddlers may only need 8 g
  • small children may only need 10 g

 For details please read What Is the Rule of 15 and How Does It Work?

Long-term treatment: Long-term treatment requires identifying and treating the cause of hypoglycemia. Regular monitoring of blood sugar, adjusting medication as needed, eating balanced meals, and planning snacks around physical activity can help prevent hypoglycemia.

Management of Severe Hypoglycemia 

If someone has very low blood sugar (a severe hypo, blood sugar level <3.1 mmol/L or <55 mg/dL) and becomes unconscious:

  1. Do not give them any food or drink as they will not be able to swallow safely.
  2. Put them into the recovery position.
  3. Give them a glucagon injection straight away, if one is available and you know how to use it.
  4. If they start to recover within 10 minutes of having a glucagon injection and can swallow safely, give them some food or drink that will raise their blood sugar.
  5. Stay with them until they’re fully recovered.

You think someone has very low blood sugar and they’re not responding normally or they’re unconscious, call emergency services (usually 999) or visit a nearby hospital immediately.

Relevant Blogs

If you want to learn more about diabetes, here are some other blogs you might find interesting:

TitleLinks
What is diabetesClick this link
Symptoms of diabetesClick this link
Complications of diabetes Click this link
Determinants of diabetesClick this link
Disease burden of diabetesClick this link
Prevalence of diabetesClick this link
Diabetes and tuberculosis (TB)Click this link
Definition of diabetesClick this link

References

Basina, M. (2022, January 20). Rule of 15 for Diabetes: 15-15 Rule for Hypoglycemia. Healthline. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/rule-of-15-diabetes#15-15-rule

Cleveland Clinic. “Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): Symptoms & Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, 01 January 2023, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11647-hypoglycemia-low-blood-sugar

Mayo Clinic. (2023, November 18). Hypoglycemia – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373685

NHS. (2023, August 03). Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). NHS. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/low-blood-sugar-hypoglycaemia/

Wood, Kelly, et al. “Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): Symptoms, Causes, and More.” Healthline, 30 June 2023, https://www.healthline.com/health/hypoglycemia. Accessed 24 May 2024


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