by Kimberly Allen, R.N.
Hypoglycemia is the opposite of hyperglycemia. Instead of too much sugar in the blood, there’s too little. Hyperglycemia is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom or complication of another underlying condition. The most common condition associated with hypoglycemia is insulin dependent diabetes. However, there are several other conditions that can cause hypoglycemia including various metabolic disorders, hormone deficiencies as well as medications, poisons, and alcohol. Hypoglycemia can also be a secondary problem related to severe disease of almost any major organ system.
If your blood sugar gets too low and you become hypoglycemic, there are certain symptoms you will probably experience such as confusion and difficulty concentrating on routine tasks. Some people also have blurry or double vision as well as heart palpitations, increased anxiety, sweating and shakiness. If the hypoglycemia is severe and left untreated it can lead to a variety of complications even death.
The body requires sugar, or glucose, to function, especially the brain. You get glucose from the foods you eat. Through digestion, the glucose is broken down and enters the bloodstream. When the glucose reaches a certain level, it triggers the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin is needed for the glucose to enter the cells to be used as energy. Once all the cells have received their supply of glucose the extra glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen for later use. Then, if the glucose level in your bloodstream gets too low, another hormone called glucagon signals your liver. The liver then breaks down the stored glycogen backs into glucose and release it into your bloodstream to help maintain the glucose level in your bloodstream. If for some reason you are unable to replenish your glucose supply before using up all of your stored glucose your body then uses a process to convert ketones into a fuel source. The brain is the one organ that is totally dependent on glucose to function and is also unable to produce it’s own supply of glucose making it totally dependent on the rest of the body to provide it’s supply of glucose. The brain will use ketones if there is no glucose available, however it tends to cause the function of the brain to be impaired.
Hypoglycemia is diagnosed using three criteria known as Whipple triad. The criteria in Whipples triad include the symptoms, documentation of low blood sugar while experiencing symptoms and the disappearance of symptoms. The Dr will assess all these aspects of your hypoglycemia attacks before making a diagnosis of hypoglycemia.
The treatment of hypoglycemia focuses on two main goals, raising your blood sugar level and treating the underlying condition that is causing the hypoglycemia. If your hypoglycemia is mild the you can raise your blood sugar by eating carbohydrates or sugar. Orange juice and graham crackers have always been an old stand by but many Drs now prefer milk to juice as it will raise your blood sugar more evenly and for a longer period of time. Should your hypoglycemia be severe you may need to receive an injection of glucagon or an intravenous infusion of glucose. Once your glucose level is with in normal limits your Dr will focus on treating the underlying cause. If you are a known diabetic your Dr will want to assess your diet, activity and insulin dose to guide you to more effectively managing your diabetes. If you are not a diabetic your Dr will want to run tests to determine the underlying cause.
The best way to prevent hypoglycemia is to monitor your blood sugar regularly and carefully manage your diabetes. If you are not a diabetic and have frequent episodes of hypoglycemia eating small meals more frequently throughout the day can help you to keep your blood sugar with in normal limits.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.