Though Dr. Seale Harris, an American Physician and researcher discovered low blood sugar condition in 1924, the subject hardly garnered importance amongst the medical fraternity and patients. So much, that low blood sugar condition wasn't even taught during medical training. As for the patients, low blood sugar level symptoms were an indicator of other body disorders.
The worldwide statistics indicate that the cases of low blood sugar are on the rise. The data is alarming. Having understood the ramification of the problem, symptoms aren't to be overlooked or ignored. Here is everything you need to know, right from how blood sugar levels affect body, the symptoms for diabetic and non-diabetic and what exactly happens within the body to cause low blood sugar. And, finally how to treat and alleviate low blood sugar and regain perfect health.
Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia
Our body engages in creating glucose, a form of sugar after we eat. The food sources that assist in creating glucose are carbohydrates, protein and fat. The glucose so formed, gets into the bloodstream. In other words, the blood absorbs glucose and provides energy for movement and chemical reactions in the body. Muscles, organs and cells use it for energy. For the brain, glucose is the only source of energy. The brain's neurons need constant supply, at least 125 to 150 grams of glucose per day to function.
All is well as long as the blood sugar is at normal level. Too low or too high affects normal functioning of the body. The level varies from person to person under different circumstances. Generally, blood sugar level between 50 and 60 mg/dl is referred to as mild hypoglycemia, whereas that between 20 and 50 mg/dl is moderate hypoglycemia. A value that is lower than 20 mg/dl can prove to be fatal.
Soon after the level drops, the body senses a shortage of supply of energy. Though there are back-ups to increase blood sugar levels, beyond a point the body starts to consciously alert the affected person through signs and symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of low blood sugar
It is easy to understand signs and symptoms of low blood sugar. Low blood sugar symptoms are felt and sensed by the patient. Others may know only if the patient communicates.
Low blood sugar is not a disease but a health condition. Low blood sugar can happen to anyone. For diabetics, it can result in serious complications. Almost all alcoholics have low blood sugar. People with neurotics and psychotics issues can identify their problems to low blood sugar.
Low blood sugar symptoms can last all day and evening. Most of the time the affected person may not even be aware. For instance, feeling tired and worn out between 11.00 AM and 3.00 PM is a telltale sign of low blood sugar. Spotting the symptoms is easy after knowing what to look out for. To make it simple and easier, it is best to track body's reaction after a sweet snack or a cup of coffee etc. Those experiencing low blood sugar may have one or combination of symptoms at any given time. These can be understood as initial warning from the body in response to low blood sugar levels.
- Feeling tired
- Excessive sleep
- Feeling nervous or anxious
- Feeling cranky
- Unclear thinking
- Double or blurry vision
- Feeling uneasy
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
After the initial warning, in the absence of remedial measures that helps increase the level of glucose, the symptoms can progress to any of the following. It can also result in damage to the brain or death in extreme cases.
- Changes in behavior
There are also chances of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia to happen during sleep. Some signs of low blood sugar during sleep include
- Crying out or reacting to nightmares.
- Extreme perspiration to the extent that dress and bed become damp.
- Feeling tired, irritable or confused after waking up.
Causes of low blood sugar in non-diabetics
Adults and children alike who are non-diabetic may experience low blood pressure symptoms. There are two types of non-diabetic low blood sugar or hypoglycemia, fasting hypoglycemia and reactive hypoglycemia.
Fasting hypoglycemia: Happens after going without food for eight hours or longer.
- Prolonged fasting.
- Poor eating habits
- Unhealthy diet.
- Intake of certain medicines particularly ones that may inhibit the liver and pancreas' respective functions.
- Drinking large amounts of beer, wine or hard liquor, particularly on an empty stomach.
- Certain types of tumor growth with particular reference to those that grown on organs that manage body's insulin such as liver or pancreas.
- Abnormal development of certain hormones wherein the body produces too much insulin (hyperinsulism), resulting in a rapid depletion of body's glucose. This in turn can lead to sudden lowering of blood sugar.
- Disorders that affect and interfere in the way the body uses glucose.
- Liver disease, kidney disease or other serious illness.
- If the body over-reacts to the action of insulin, causing the blood sugar to drop too much.
Reactive hypoglycemia: Happens about 2 to 4 hours after a meal. Causes of reactive low blood sugar or hypoglycemia are not well established. The cause could be one or a combination of the following.
- Most likely for people who have had stomach surgery.
- People who have early diabetes mellitus or pre-diabetes.
- Due to disorders which affect the way the body uses glucose.
- Unknown reasons or idiopathic.
Causes of low blood sugar in diabetics
Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia is commonly linked with diabetes. There are instances where the diabetic patient, especially those who have been diabetic for many years, may not have any warning symptoms. Symptoms are construed to be related to dehydration, anemia or thyroid. In such cases, the family members and friends should be informed and know what to look out for. If left untreated, the situation can worsen and lead to seizures and loss of consciousness.
Type 1 diabetics rather than type 2 diabetic are more likely to have low blood sugar levels. People with diabetes term low blood sugar or hypoglycemia as 'insulin reaction'. It occurs when there's too much insulin and not enough sugar (glucose) in the blood. Too much insulin depletes reserve levels of glucose leaving inadequate source of energy for the body. Other causes are too much medication or delaying a meal, eating too little food for the amount of insulin taken, exercising strenuously, drinking too much alcohol or a combination of any of these factors.
Other causes of low blood sugar
There are other conditions too which can cause low blood sugar.
- Early pregnancy
- Prolonged fasting
- Poor diet
- Long periods of strenuous exercise
- Drinking alcohol
- Intake of beta blocker medications combined with exercise.
- Aspirin intake in some children.
Detecting low blood sugar
Being aware of low blood sugar symptoms helps detecting it as early as possible. It is best to contact a physician and go ahead with recommended tests and exams. Home monitoring devices also called as blood glucose monitoring devices are also available. There are even 'talking meters' for people with vision impairment. The test is a quantitative test that helps find out the amount of glucose present in blood sample. The results can be obtained in few minutes.
Diabetic people need to track and monitor blood sugar levels consistently. The test results can be reviewed by the physician and help in analyzing change of dose of medication, the pattern of changes, if any or any change in diet and exercises is required so as to avoid complication.
Treating low blood sugar
The immediate action, for non-diabetic people is to have a tablespoon of sugar, honey or syrup which relieves the symptoms in 10 to 15 minutes. Drinking fruit juice, non-diet soda or a cup of milk also help in normalizing blood sugar levels. Several hard candies or glucose tables, if available also help to control blood sugar levels. Never eat too much during the episodes and it is best to wait for about 15 minutes before eating again.
This is only a temporary treatment and the symptoms are likely to recur within 10 to 15 minutes. Make use of the blood glucose meter to measure sugar levels. If the symptoms have cleared and if the next meal is scheduled within 30 minutes or less, go ahead and eat on schedule. If it's due much later, have a snack, more substantial food to cut the risk of recurrence. In extreme circumstances, be prepared to seek emergency help, if required. Severe symptoms require hospital stay. Injections or hormones will be given to avoid serious complications.
Diabetics who are subject to low blood sugar levels can wear a bracelet or jewelry with the medical information card. Those who are on medication that can cause low blood sugar should carry a sugar-containing snack like glucose tables, hard candy or raisins. If the physician has recommended a glucagons emergency kit, do carry it along.
Preventing low blood sugar levels
Preventive methods are also a form of treatment. Those who are prone to low blood sugar can maintain a dairy and notice the sequence of events and how certain corrective measures have helped.
Diabetics should follow diabetes management plan recommended by the doctor. For non-diabetics, eating frequent small meals is only a temporary strategy to prevent low blood sugar from depleting further.. Discuss with doctor to identify underlying cause and take necessary steps to prevent low blood sugar associated with the cause.
Tips to prevent low blood sugar
- Know your body and follow doctor's instruction always.
- Never skip meals. Eat at regular intervals.
- Have a snack before vigorous exercise.
- Monitor blood sugar levels and keep up appointment with health care provider. Discuss dietary changes or any other changes required.
- Before alcohol consumption, have a snack.
- Eat a nutritious diet. Include carbohydrates, protein and fat. Include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Reduce amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Maintain an ideal weight.
- Learn to manage episodes.
- Don't miss to carry snacks such as crackers with peanut butter or cheese or foods that help to normalize sugar levels.
Bibliography / Reference: