What Is Hypoglycemia?

What Is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia, also known as low blood  glucose refers to  abnormally low levels of glucose in the blood. Low blood glucose can occur in people living with diabetes who take insulin, even if it’s only once per day. The brain requires adequate glucose (or sugar) for fuel, and without sufficient energy, even simple daily tasks may become difficult.1 Hypoglycemia is usually defined as a blood glucose level of 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or lower and can occur with or without symptoms.2 

Individuals with diabetes who are prescribed insulin or other glucose lowering medications, should monitor their blood glucose levels regularly and be aware of the potential causes and symptoms of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia may be triggered by missing a meal or eating later than planned, increased or unplanned physical activity, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, taking too much insulin or making a mistake with insulin dosing (including taking morning insulin at night or vice versa).1  

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include, but are not limited to, increased hunger, shakiness, rapid heartbeat, blurry vision, irritability, dizziness and confusion. These symptoms can often be mild and may not alert an individual to the fact that they are experiencing hypoglycemia.2 It is important to address even mild symptoms, so blood glucose does not continue to drop to a more severe level. Educate family, friends and co-workers to the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, so they can be of assistance if needed.3  

Immediate treatment with carbohydrates is essential to treat a low blood glucose. The standard initial treatment for low blood glucose levels at or below 70mg/dL is to consume 15g carbohydrate. Recheck blood glucose in 15 minutes, and if still below 70mg/dLtreat with an additional 15g of fast-acting carbohydrate. Once blood glucose is back to normal, eat a meal or snack to make sure it doesn’t lower again.3 

Examples of 15g servings of fast-acting carbohydrate to raise blood glucose: 

• three to four glucose tablets; 
• 4  oz fruit juice  
• 4 oz regular soda (not sugar-free); 
• 8 oz (1 cup) sports drink (not sugar-free); 1 T sugar or five small sugar cubes; or 
• 1 T syrup or honey.  

Severe hypoglycemia will require immediate medical attention and glucagon may be needed. Hypoglycemia can also lead to major negative impacts on individuals with diabetes’ cardiovascular health and may negatively affect emotional well-being.4 It is therefore important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, as well as the potential causes and available treatments.  

References
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041938/
2. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/low-blood-sugar.html
3 https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/6/1902
4 https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/low-blood-sugar.html

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER - HEALTH CARE AND TREATMENT ARE COMPLEX SUBJECTS REQUIRING THE SERVICES OF QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS. THIS EDUCATIONAL HANDOUT IS INFORMATIONAL ONLY AND NOT INTENDED AS MEDICAL OR HEALTH CARE ADVICE OR RECOMMENDATIONS TO BE USED FOR DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENT OR FOR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL NEEDS. THIS EDUCATIONAL HANDOUT IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL OR HEALTH CARE ADVICE, RECOMMENDATIONS AND/OR SERVICES FROM A QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROVIDER. THIS EDUCATIONAL HANDOUT MAY NOT BE RELIED UPON IN ANY WAY IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR PERSONAL HEALTH CARE, RELATED DECISIONS AND TREATMENT. ALL SUCH DECISIONS AND TREATMENT SHOULD BE DISCUSSED WITH A QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROVIDER WHO IS FAMILIAR WITH YOUR INDIVIDUAL NEEDS.
5 https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/low-blood-sugar-treatment.html

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