Hypoglycemia: why you need to know about it

What is hypoglycemia?

Consisting of the words hypo (“under”) + glycemia (“presence of glucose in blood”), it is a condition where the body’s blood sugar levels are lower than normal. This can be due to various factors, and is usually an indicator of something more serious. Hypoglycemia usually accompanies both type-1 and type-2 diabetes, but can also be the result of other problems such as organ damage, anxiety, side effects of medications, and so on. If left untreated, severe hypoglycemia can induce seizures and coma. Prolonging it further will even result in brain damage.

Unfortunately, real cases of hypoglycemia are difficult to pinpoint and diagnose. This health risk mimics the symptoms of other conditions such as generalised anxiety disorder to a certain extent, and can be caused by the intake of other substances such as caffeine, which can be found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and even caffeine pills.

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 Pfffft!! What? Coffee can kill me? 

As such, due to the uncertainty involved in detecting hypoglycemia, the signs and symptoms listed here should not be taken as a doctor’s medical advice but merely that of a general guideline. Everyone’s physiology differs from person to person so you should consult your doctor if you have further questions. They will usually be able to pinpoint your condition based on numerous factors.

Diabetic hypoglycaemia

This is the most common form of hypoglycemia, where the level of glucose in the body is inadequate for meeting its needs. Type-1 diabetes patients, due to their inability to produce insulin on their own, can get this if they are not careful. They must take injected insulin supplements to balance their glucose levels, and should they overdose or forget to eat on time, they stand to develop hypoglycemia.

While type-2 diabetes patients are commonly believed to be at less risk of catching this condition, the truth of the matter is that they are equally vulnerable to it as long as they are injecting themselves with insulin—an excess of insulin being the primary cause of hypoglycemia. Type-2 diabetes patients typically are educated on the dangers of high blood sugar, not low, and thus, many patients encounter hypoglycemia regularly despite them not recognising it. Just as it is unhealthy to have high glucose levels in the bloodstream, so is it equally unhealthy to have a low level of glucose. Patients should strive for a stable blood glucose that neither fluctuates nor is at either extreme.

Non-diabetic hypoglycemia

As per its name, this type of hypoglycemia affects patients who do not have diabetes. There are multiple reasons why a non-diabetic patient can also fall victim to hypoglycemia, and they include:

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Skipping meals: The chance of developing hypoglycemia is compounded by how often the patient skips their meals, in addition to any pre-existing conditions that may worsen it. Our primary source of glucose is derived from the sugar content in the food that we eat. Skipping meals has the potential to trigger hypoglycemia if food intake is irregular or scarce to begin with.

 

Alcohol consumption: Excess alcohol consumption has been known to trigger hypoglycemia in otherwise healthy patients due to the way in which alcohol interacts with the liver and pancreas. When excess alcohol is consumed, blood flow to the pancreas’ islet (a specific portion of body tissue) is interfered with, tampering the regulation and release of insulin, a hormone which regulates the levels of glucose within the body. The liver on the other hand is unable to release glucose into the bloodstream simply because of alcohol intake.

 

Medication: There are many known medications that induce hypoglycemia as a side effect, including but not limited to: medication for high blood pressure, beta-blockers, anti-depressants—even anti-diabetic medications are capable of triggering hypoglycemia as they are usually involved in the regulation of insulin. Should you be taking existing medication with known side-effects, please make sure to consult your doctor for further details as to how to manage hypoglycemia should it occur.

 

Internal organ problems: Hypoglycemia can also develop if one or more internal organs that govern the production of insulin (pancreas) and regulation of glucose and blood sugar (liver) are not functioning. This even includes the endocrine glands (pituitary gland, adrenal glands). If the patient experiences any of this then hypoglycemia is itself a symptom of a more serious problem like organ-specific diseases, cancer, tumours, or even organ failure. Potentially life-threatening if not dealt with immediately, such cases should be referred to the doctor on short 

Reactive hypoglycemia: Also called post-prandial hypoglycemia, this condition needs to be explained further as it has a more complicated breakdown. Unexpectedly, reactive hypoglycemia can possibly occur after a meal that has high carbohydrate content. Anywhere from one to three hours after said meal, the body overproduces insulin in response to the carbohydrates, spiking the blood sugar. This causes the amount of glucose in the body to dip in response later, resulting in the manifestation of the condition.

Reactive hypoglycemia also comes in its own varieties; one such being alimentary hypoglycemia, commonly experienced by people who have had gastric bypass surgery. In this situation, the food consumed reaches the small intestine too quickly due to the reduced size of the stomach, resulting in a release of excess insulin that lowers the body’s glucose level.

Now that you are aware of the many possibilities, It should be evident that there is no single cause for hypoglycemia. There are many different causes that can contribute to it and its diagnosis is dependent on numerous factors. With this in mind, this information should be regarded as a supplement to and not a replacement for medical advice.