Someone holding their head.
Common symptoms of hypoglycemia include blurred vision, fatigue and mood swings.

Hypoglycemia Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Hypoglycemia is the medical term for low blood glucose (blood sugar). Your body has to maintain a certain balance of glucose in order to fuel the cells of your body. If your blood sugar is too high (hyperglycemia), it can cause long-term damage to your pancreas, as well as the hardening of blood vessels. Too little glucose (hypoglycemia), and your body does not have adequate energy to fuel your cells. This article will talk about some of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, hypoglycemia causes and options for treatment.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is not like a cold, where a specific virus is causing a single illness that can be easily monitored. There is continuum of hypoglycemia symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of mild hypoglycemia include:

  • Hunger
  • Tremors or jitters
  • Sweating
  • Pale face
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion

So, mild hypoglycemia is not all that different from what happens when you are extremely hungry. This makes sense, since hypoglycemia is what happens when your body does not have enough glucose in the blood, which comes from food.

Severe hypoglycemia can be a lot more frightening. Some symptoms of severe hypoglycemia include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Poor concentration and confusion
  • Irrational attitude changes, irritability, or excess anxiety
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Coordination problems

If severe hypoglycemia is left untreated, more serious complications can emerge. These include seizures, fainting, or even going into a coma.

What Causes Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is most commonly associated with diabetes. This is because of the relationship between blood glucose, insulin and the pancreas.

When your body consumes sugar and it is released into the bloodstream; it is not instantly converted into fuel for cells. The body requires insulin to facilitate the release of glucose into the cells. Even if your blood glucose is high, without adequate insulin, your body cannot gain any energy from it.

The pancreas produces precisely the amount of insulin the body needs in a healthy person. In a diabetic person, either the pancreas cannot produce insulin (type 1 diabetes), or there is an issue somewhere else in the pipeline where the body cannot use insulin properly, or the pancreas does not produce enough (type 2 diabetes). In either case, the body cannot absorb the sugar to produce energy. People with diabetes have to take insulin to correct this.

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Diabetes frequently causes hyperglycemia (too much sugar), but can also cause hypoglycemia if a person with diabetes:

  • Takes too much insulin
  • Skips a meal or eats too little
  • Exercises too hard
  • Drinks alcohol

Though diabetes is the most frequent cause of hypoglycemia, it is not the only one. Children can experience something called pediatric ketonic hypoglycemia, which is a poorly understood condition that causes low blood sugar levels and higher levels of ketones (a substance produced by the liver when it processes fat into sugar to make energy).

Other causes of hypoglycemia in adults include eating disorders, hepatitis, pancreatic cancer, taking certain pneumonia and malaria medications, or even drinking alcohol. One rare condition that can cause hypoglycemia is insulin autoimmune syndrome; this is when your body attacks insulin as a foreign substance.

Treatment Options for Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is a condition that needs to be addressed as soon as the signs become apparent. Failing to do so can be dangerous and lead to serious complications. A person experiencing hypoglycemia needs to consume sugar right away. This can be in the form of:

  • A glucose tablet
  • A lump of sugar
  • A piece of candy
  • A glass of fruit juice

To avoid the onset of hyperglycemia (too much sugar), after the initial blast of sugar, a person should switch to a slower-release, starchier carbohydrate like cereal, rice, or bread. They can also eat a high-fiber, sugary carbohydrate, like fruit.

How to Handle a Hypoglycemic Attack

If hypoglycemia becomes so severe that the person is nonresponsive, then somebody nearby can help get some sugar into the person’s system by taking jam, syrup, or a product like Glucogel and apply it to the inside of the person’s cheek, massaging it in from the outside.

These steps will handle an immediate hypoglycemic attack. Most people will start feeling better about 20 minutes after consuming some sugar. However, for people experiencing hypoglycemia for the first time, or experiencing an extreme attack, it is critical to seek medical attention to find the underlying problem and focus on prevention of future hypoglycemic incidents.

How Can It Be Prevented?

If diabetes is the underlying cause, then hypoglycemia can be prevented in most cases through good management of symptoms. This includes periodically testing blood sugar, taking insulin consistently and as directed, and always carrying glucose tablets or similar doses of sugar in case early signs of hypoglycemia appear.

If diabetes is not the underlying cause, your doctor can advise you on the best course of action for you. Regardless of your specific cause of hypoglycemia, it is important to seek the advice of a medical professional before attempting new treatments.

Hypoglycemia can be scary, but for many people with diabetes, managing hypoglycemia becomes a regular part of life. With the advice from this article and from your doctor, you can manage hypoglycemia and live your life to the fullest.