What Is Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose)?

If you have been suffering from diabetes and are taking medication, you may occasionally find yourself feeling quite hungry, jittery and possibly even sweating. You check your blood sugar and find that it is around 58 mg/dL. This experience you are having is due to a condition called ‘low blood glucose’, or hypoglycaemia.

What is hypoglycaemia?

An abnormally low blood glucose level is called hypoglycaemia. The definition of this condition is a blood glucose level of below 70 mg/dL.

The only way to know if you are suffering from hypoglycaemia is to have a blood sugar check then immediately using a glucometer.

What are the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia?

It is very common for people suffering from diabetes to wonder how they can recognise hypoglycemia. The table below gives a brief description of the common symptoms you may experience if your blood sugar levels are abnormally low.

Why does hypoglycaemia occur?

The most common reason why you may develop abnormally low blood glucose levels is because you have missed a meal and have taken your diabetes medicines. Another reason why it may occur is because the medication you are taking is more than what you actually required. This situation requires input from your physician or diabetologist straightaway.

What can happen if low blood glucose levels are not treated?

Glucose is required for the functioning of all the vital structures and tissues in the body. One of the most vital structure that needs glucose to function well is the brain. If there is low blood glucose, your brain is unable to function normally and you may start to feel very drowsy. As the glucose levels drop further, you may develop seizures and going into a coma. This can be quite a serious problem that requires admission to hospital and treatment in the intensive care unit.

Treatment of hypoglycaemia

The principle behind treating hypoglycaemia is simple – if your blood sugar is low, increase the blood glucose values immediately by consuming glucose.

It is often recommended that those experiencing hypoglycaemia immediately consume around 20 g of glucose or sugar straightaway. This is equivalent to 3 to 4 tablespoons. Once you have done so, recheck your blood sugar levels with your glucometer after about 15 minutes. If your blood glucose levels remain low, repeat this process.

Once your blood glucose levels have returned to normal, make sure you have a meal or a small snack.

Glucagon is sometimes used as a treatment for hypoglycaemia. It is a hormone that acts on the liver and stimulates it to release glucose that is stored in the liver into the bloodstream. Glucagon is often administered by the doctors to patients in hospital suffering from hypoglycaemia.

Instructions to relatives and friends

If you have a family member who you think is suffering from hypoglycemia, then the first thing you must do is sit them up and give them 3 to 4 tablespoons of sugar or a mouthful of glucose powder (or gel). Once you notice an improvement, give them a sugary food or drink and allow them to rest.

If you are not sure whether their symptoms are due to a low blood glucose or high blood glucose, go ahead and give them a sugary drink anyway. This will help increase low blood glucose levels and is unlikely to cause any harm even if their sugar levels are high.

If there is no improvement, call your doctor or an ambulance and take them to hospital immediately.

Hypoglycemia unawareness

If your blood sugar has been abnormally low on numerous occasions, you may experience a phenomenon called hypoglycemia unawareness.

Normally,  when you suffer from a low blood glucose in the middle of the night, your body tells you that it does not have enough sugar in the blood stream. This can awaken you from your sleep.  However, those who have hypoglycemia unawareness may not experience this.

In other words. the reduced ability of the body to detect low blood glucose levels is called hypoglycemia unawareness.

Those who have had diabetes for a very long time, or those in whom the blood sugar control has been very tight are at risk of hypoglycemia unawareness.

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