The body regulates its blood glucose levels through the functioning of the pancreas, liver, and adrenal glands which secrete various hormones to counteract large doses of glucose and to filter glucose into the cells. At the cellular level, the sugar acts as the body’s primary energy source. When blood sugar levels dip below 70 mg/dL, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may be diagnosed. People suffering from type 1 and type 2 diabetes are often at risk for the condition, though diabetes is not the only risk factor leading to bouts of hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is often left undiagnosed in adults but can be found by an endocrinologist after several tests. Often, the condition is diagnosed when three specific criteria have been noted, including presence of symptoms of the condition, low blood glucose levels, and a decrease in symptoms once blood glucose is elevated.
Once blood sugar levels begin to deplete, symptoms can come on suddenly. When sugar levels fall below 60 mg/dL, cognitive functioning is impaired. Symptoms of the disorder include hunger, tremors, sweating, confusion, anxiety, dizziness, or light-headedness, and drowsiness. Severe hypoglycemia can cause loss of consciousness or even death. Generally, eating some fruit or other food high in glucose can quickly increase blood glucose levels and reduce symptoms. If someone suffers from severe hypoglycemia, however, an emergency kit can be put together that includes a glucagon injector to aid in severe bouts of hypoglycemia.
People who do not have diabetes may have one of two types of hypoglycemia. Reactive hypoglycemia is low blood sugar that occurs around four hours after a meal. Fasting hypoglycemia happens due to an undiagnosed or underlying disorder. Both types can be diagnosed through blood tests and treated, depending on the cause of the disorder.
The most common treatments for hypoglycemia include changing the amount and time food is consumed as well as being physically active. Reactive hypoglycemia is most affected by lifestyle changes such as eating a snack or small meal every three hours, getting regular exercise, eating plenty of fiber primarily through a variety of fruits and vegetables, limiting refined sugars and carbohydrates and eating ample amounts of whole grains and nuts. Fasting hypoglycemia requires the underlying condition to be diagnosed and treated. Once treated, symptoms of hypoglycemia usually disappear. Some factors that can cause fasting hypoglycemia include tumors, hormonal imbalance, drinking alcohol, and medications.
Hypoglycemia can become dangerous if blood sugars drop while driving. Because low blood sugar causes impaired brain functioning and sometimes may cause blurry vision, lack of concentration or inability to react to situations on the road can cause an accident to occur. People suffering from regular bouts of hypoglycemia should check their blood glucose levels before driving and throughout a long drive to ensure sugar levels do not dip below 70 mg/dL.
Regardless of the underlying cause of low blood sugar, it is a condition that needs to be considered seriously. Without a careful diagnosis and a commitment to a treatment regime, it can be very dangerous. But, in most cases, it is a manageable condition.