Posted by on Apr 7, 2016 in Blog, Diabetes mellitus | 11 comments

What Is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar. This occurs when blood glucose levels fall below 70 mg/dl.

Normally, when you eat food, the pancreas detects the presence of glucose, fatty acids and amino acids in the small intestines. It secretes insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin acts on the liver, telling it to start building glycogen from that glucose. It also tells the cells of the body to absorb glucose and other nutrients from the blood stream. Insulin, in effect, lowers the amount of sugar in your blood.  [For a detailed review of glucose and and what happens in the course of digestion please read the post on carbs and carb counting.]

hypoglycemiaThe pancreas does not work this way for those with type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.  If there is too much insulin in the blood and not enough sugar or glucose, the situation can be dangerous and even life threatening.

Hypoglycemia can happen for a number of reasons.  Sickness can increase the chances of low blood sugar.  Growth spurts in children can make estimating the amount of insulin needed difficult.  Getting more exercise than usual, eating later or missing a meal or snack can cause low blood sugar.

Early Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar

Knowing the early symptoms of hypoglycemia is crucial for those with type 1 diabetes and for their caregivers.  These include:

  • Sweating
  • Pale skin
  • Shaking
  • Pounding heart
  • Hunger
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Weakness
  • Frequent sighing
  • Nausea or vomiting

As hypoglycemia progresses, the symptoms change.

Late symptoms of low blood sugar

  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Impaired coordination
  • Personality change
  • Numbness in the mouth
  • Seizures
  • Fainting
  • Agitation

Reliance on Others

If hypoglycemia has progressed to seizures and unconsciousness, people around you will need to intervene. Prepare family and friends to help you. It is important that you let people you are with know how to help you in case of hypoglycemia. Make sure they know to call 911 or, if they are family, caregivers or friends, they may be able to administer glucagon from your kit.

Hypoglycemia Unawareness

Hypoglycemia unawareness occurs in around 20% of people with diabetes. They do not experience the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia unawareness is more likely in people who have had diabetes for a long time or who have had many episodes of hypoglycemia.

Strategies to raise your blood sugar level

If your blood sugar is too low (less than 70 mg/dl), it’s important to bring your level up immediately.  Drink half a cup of orange juice or half a cup of hypoglycemiaapple juice.  You can also take a tablespoon of honey, molasses or corn syrup. Many people buy 5mg tabs of glucose and take 3 of them when they are low.

Wait fifteen minutes and then take a blood sugar reading.

Coping With Hypoglycemia Unawareness

If you have hypoglycemia unawareness, you need to take steps to reduce the likelihood of blood sugar lows. One suggested strategy is to set your target blood sugar levels higher. Reducing the frequency of low blood sugars may help bring your awareness of hypoglycemia back. Discuss this strategy with your physician.

Another strategy is to always test your blood sugar levels before doing an activity that requires full attention, like driving. Test and retest your levels before and after exercise.

Be prepared for low blood sugar rescues. Have your kit prepared and with you at all times with glucose tablets, hard candy and/or juice boxes.