Hypoglycemia or Low Blood Sugar: Symptoms and Causes

Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when the sugar levels in your blood are too low. It occurs when the level of glucose present in the blood falls below a set point which is 4 mmol/L or 70mg/dL.

Updated: November 27, 2017

Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when the sugar levels in your blood are too low. It occurs when the level of glucose present in the blood falls below a set point which is 4 mmol/L or 70mg/dL.
Taking too much medication, skipping meals, eating less than normal, or exercising more than usual can lead to low blood sugar in people with diabetes. Immediate treatment for low blood sugar levels is important to prevent more serious complications.

Diabetes is a group of diseases in which the body either doesn't produce enough or any insulin,  does not properly use the insulin that is produced, or a combination of both.
Caring for your health will make  your diabetes easier to treat and minimize your risk of developing complications of diabetes. Self care can be done by maintaining good physical and mental health and preventing illness or accidents. You should also be tested  at least once a year to check how well your diabetes is being controlled over the long term. HbA1C test can be conducted once in 3 months to  measures how much glucose is in the red blood cells. Be in regular contact with your diabetes care team for examination of your eyes, feet and nerves which may be affected by diabetes.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia:

The symptoms occur suddenly when you have low sugar level in your blood which include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • sudden mood changes
  • blurry vision
  • hunger
  • shaking
  • dizziness
  • sudden mood changes
  • sudden nervousness
  • pale skin
  • headache
  • unexplained fatigue
  • difficulty sleeping
  • skin tingling
  • sweating
  • loss of consciousness, seizure, coma
  • trouble thinking clearly or concentrating

Very low blood sugar is a medical emergency. You can faint, experience a seizure, or even go into a coma if not treated immediately. Immediate treatment include eating or drinking 15 grams of easily digestible carbohydrates, such as:

  • half a cup of juice
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 3 or 4 pieces of hard candy or glucose tablets
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 4 or 5 saltine crackers

Glucagon can be given if a person is unconscious or faint because of hypoglycemia.

Causes of Hypoglycemia:

Usually hypoglycemia is a side effect of diabetes treatment.  It can occur for a number of reasons which include:

Diabetes and Hypoglycemia:

Blood sugar is also known as glucose which is an important source of energy for the body that comes from food especially carbohydrates. Glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream and enters the cell when you eat.  Insulin helps your cells use glucose for energy which is made in the pancreas. The excessive glucose in your body will be stored in your liver and muscles or change it into fat so that it can be used for energy when it is needed later.
In a healthy person, the increased insulin have enough glucose to maintain blood sugar levels, and the liver can make glucose if needed. In case of people with diabetes, as it affects the ability your body to use insulin, a variety of treatments are provided to help their bodies use the glucose in their blood. The treatment include taking oral medications or insulin injections which help increase insulin production. If the dose is higher then required, insulin production is more compare to the glucose store in your body resulting in drop of your blood sugar to too low.
Skipping meals, eating less than normal, or eating later than normal but taking your medication at your normal time can also lead to hypoglycemia. Excess physical activity without eating enough can also cause a drop in blood sugar levels. 
Drinking alcohol, especially if it replaces food can also lead to low blood sugar.

Other causes of Hypoglycemia:

Low blood sugar level or hypoglycemia can be experienced without diabetic also. Some other causes of low blood sugar include:

  • certain medications, such as quinine
  • endocrine disorders, such as adrenal gland deficiency
  • a tumor that produces excess insulin
  • some medical conditions, such as hepatitis or kidney disorders


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