Hypoglycemia is often associated with, or mistaken for, diabetes. While the two conditions are often linked, they are not the same thing. So what is hypoglycemia, exactly? How is it defined, and what are the symptoms and complications associated with it?
Diabetes is a disorder that affects the way the body stores or breaks down blood sugar. On the other hand, hypoglycemia is a condition in which an individual’s blood sugar levels fall below normal levels. People with diabetes are at greater risk of hypoglycemia. However, the condition can affect people who do not have diabetes as well.
Let’s explore what hypoglycemia could lead to.
What is Hypoglycemia?
The medical cutoff for hypoglycemia is a glucose level below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). However, unless you are diabetic, you likely do not actively monitor your glucose levels throughout the day. As such, this scientific definition is not explicitly helpful to everybody. Knowing the causes and symptoms of hypoglycemia is much more useful to those who are unfamiliar with it.
There are a few potential causes of hypoglycemia that do not involve Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Some of the most common non-diabetic hypoglycemia causes include:
- Certain medications, especially in children or people with kidney failure.
- Malnutrition or starvation
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Hormone imbalances
- Certain illnesses
- Insulinoma, a rare form of pancreatic tumor.
Knowing the potential causes of hypoglycemia is only part of understanding how to spot it. Here are some of the key symptoms, as well as potential complications, of hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia Symptoms and Complications
Hypoglycemia often presents very noticeable symptoms that may affect the way an individual looks, feels, and behaves.
The most common physical hypoglycemia symptoms include nausea, sweating, headache, increased heart rate, and fatigue. Some individuals may also feel a tingling or numbness in their faces. As the condition becomes worse, individuals may also experience blurred vision.
In terms of behavior, hypoglycemia can cause confusion, irritability, lack of coordination and concentration, and anxiety.
It’s important to know how to spot signs of hypoglycemia in others. Visual hypoglycemia symptoms include pale skin, shaking, slurred speech, or sudden unresponsiveness.
If left untreated, hypoglycemia can have very serious complications. Patients might have seizures or lose consciousness. If not treated, hypoglycemia can be fatal, as the body doesn’t receive enough glucose to produce energy.
While hypoglycemia requires an urgent response, in most cases, it is highly treatable.
Immediate Hypoglycemia Treatment
If you, or somebody you are with, is experiencing hypoglycemia, the immediate treatment option is to consume food quickly. The best products for hypoglycemia treatment are fast-acting carbohydrates with high-sugar contents and low protein and fat contents. This means foods like fruit or fruit juice, soda, honey, or some candy.
Doctors recommend between 15-20 grams of these carbohydrates as an immediate treatment for hypoglycemia. The recovery time is usually fairly swift after consuming carbs, with most patients feeling better within 15 minutes.
In severe cases, individuals may need assistance to recover from hypoglycemia. Many diabetics carry supplies with them to use in the event of hypoglycemia. However, for non-diabetics, urgent treatment may not have an immediate on-hand solution. In these cases, you should contact emergency medical services immediately.
Treating Underlying Causes
If you suffer from recurring hypoglycemia, then the best way to treat it is to combat the underlying cause. In these cases, identifying the causes of hypoglycemia are crucial. Diet and nutrition, medication, or another unidentified medical condition may all be at the root of recurrent hypoglycemia. Treatment options may be as simple as making changes to your diet or switching medications.