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Signs and Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

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What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is a disorder characterized by an abnormally low level of blood glucose. Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia in non diabetics and diabetics include anxiety, trembling, heart pounding as well as heart palpitations when lying down, sweating, and dilated pupils. Many symptoms can occur or become more severe after eating including an increased heart rate after eating.

Your body needs glucose, a form of sugar which is your body's main energy source. After you eat, your blood absorbs glucose. If you eat more sugar than your body needs, your muscles and liver store the extra. When your blood sugar begins to fall, a hormone tells your liver to release glucose. In most people, this raises blood sugar. If it doesn't, you have hypoglycemia, and your blood sugar can be dangerously low.

What causes hypoglycemia?

The most common cause of hypoglycemia is being a side effect of drugs used for the treatment of diabetes mellitus with insulin or oral medications. This is why hypoglycemia usually occurs in patients being treated for diabetes (type 1 and type 2).

You can read more about disease of diabetes in this article Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes.

However, a wide variety of conditions can cause low blood sugar / hypoglycemia in non diabetics (although much less common). What causes hypoglycemia may include the following:

  • Excessive insulin produced in the body
  • Inborn errors of carbohydrate, fat, amino acid or organic acid metabolism
  • Medications and poisons
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Hormone deficiencies such as endocrine
  • Certain tumors
  • Prolonged starvation / fasting
  • Alterations of metabolism associated with infection or failures of various organ systems.

Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia in non diabetics and diabetics

Hypoglycemia may cause a variety of symptoms and effects. The symptoms can vary from person to person and episode to episode, as can the severity. Specific manifestations may also vary by age, by severity of the hypoglycemia and the speed of the decline. In worse cases, It may lead to neuroglycopenia, a shortage of glucose in the brain causing vaguely "feeling bad", seizures, unconsciousness, and (rarely) permanent brain damage or death.

Your brain needs a steady supply of sugar (glucose), for it neither stores nor manufactures its own energy supply. If glucose levels become too low, as occurs with hypoglycemia in non diabetics and diabetics, it can have these effects on your brain:

  1. Shakiness, feeling anxious or weak, nervousness, heart palpitations, tachycardia, sweating, trembling, feeling of warmth, pallor, coldness, clamminess, dilated pupils (mydriasis), difficulty speaking, feeling of numbness "pins and needles" (parasthaesia) due to adrenergic manifestations as a response of the nervous system to hypoglycemia.
  2. Intense hunger, borborygmus, nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, headache are another signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia in non diabetics and diabetics. These are due to glucagon manifestations as a warning signs from the body to raise blood glucose levels before the brain is affected.
  3. Abnormal mentation, impaired judgment, nonspecific dysphoria, anxiety (see Signs and Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder for more information about anxiety disorders), moodiness, depression, crying, negativism, irritability, belligerence, combativeness, rage, personality change, emotional lability, fatigue, weakness, apathy, lethargy, daydreaming, sleep, confusion, amnesia, dizziness, delirium, staring, "glassy" look, blurred vision, double vision, automatic behavior, also known as automatism, difficulty speaking, slurred speech, ataxia, incoordination, sometimes mistaken for "drunkenness", focal or general motor deficit, paralysis, hemiparesis, paresthesia, headache, stupor, coma, abnormal breathing, changes in behavior, abnormal behavior or both (such as the inability to complete routine tasks), visual disturbances (such as double vision and blurred vision), loss of consciousness, generalized or focal seizures as a result of neuroglycopenic manifestations where the levels of glucose continue to drop.

The signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia are not specific to hypoglycemia only thus severe neuroglycopenic impairment can occur without much warning before the real cause is diagnosed.

Complications of hypoglycemia

Mild hypoglycemia produces no lasting effects on the brain however prolonged and severe hypoglycemia can produce lasting damage of a wide range. This can include impairment of cognitive function, motor control, or even consciousness.

Nearly always, hypoglycemia may become severe enough to cause seizures or loss of consciousness can be reversed without obvious harm to the brain. Cases of death or permanent neurological damage occurring with a single episode have usually involved prolonged, untreated unconsciousness, interference with breathing, severe concurrent disease, or some other type of vulnerability. Nevertheless, brain damage or death has occasionally resulted from severe hypoglycemia.

Treatment of hypoglycemia
Treatment of hypoglycemia in non diabetics and diabetics involves short-term steps by giving immediate initial treatment to raise your blood sugar level back into a normal range and long-term steps by identifying and treating what causes hypoglycemia, to prevent it from recurring.

If you have diabetes and early signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia be careful not to over treat your low blood sugar. If you do, you may cause your blood sugar level to rise too high. This, too, can be dangerous and may cause damage to your nerves, blood vessels and various organs. Don't improve with eating or taking glucose tablets instead seek immediate help.

For prevention, if you have diabetes, carefully follow the diabetes management plan you and your doctor have developed. On the other hand, if you don't have diabetes but have recurring episodes of hypoglycemia, eating frequent small meals throughout the day may keep your blood sugar levels from getting too low.

If you have what appear to be signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, see your doctor. Hypoglycemia in non diabetics and diabetics, if confirmed, can be an indication of any number of illnesses, all of which can be serious. By seeing your doctor, you can begin the process of having the underlying illness identified and treated. This will also rule out more serious complications.

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Disclaimer: This information is not presented by a medical practitioner and is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.