Even though diabetes can be caused by too much sugar, some of the most serious problems associated with the condition arise from low blood sugar. All diabetics are in danger from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
Low blood sugar can lead to serious health problems and limit your lifestyle because sugar or glucose is one of the body’s main energy sources. Falling levels of blood sugar can lead to decreased energy that can noticeably affect health and behavior. Low levels of blood sugar can do serious damage to your brain because it needs sugar to operate properly.
What Are the Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar?
When the blood sugar is 70 mg/dL or lower, most people can feel the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Every diabetic needs to be aware of the symptoms of low blood sugar because it can lead to serious health problems. Common symptoms of low blood sugar include the following:
- Uncontrolled hunger or cravings for food
- Loss of coordination
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor performance at work or school
- Fear or anxiety
- Pale skin
If these symptoms are not treated properly, serious health problems can result:
- Brain damage
- Fainting or passing out
- Numbness in mouth and tongue
- Accidents caused by seizures or inability to concentrate
When to Seek Medical Help
You have symptoms of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can be an indication of any illness.
Diabetics should seek medical help when they experience any of the mental symptoms described above. Persons using insulin or taking diabetes medication should contact their doctor as soon as possible if they suffer from any of those symptoms. A diabetic should also contact a doctor if their blood sugar does not return to 70 mg/dL after eating a sugary food.
You will need to get treatment because your body changes over time. The way drugs affect the glucose levels in the blood changes; that means the doctor may need to change the medication or the dosage. Do not delay seeking medical help, because low blood sugar can cause permanent damage to brain, blood vessels or various organs if left untreated.
What Causes Low Blood Sugar?
1. Diabetes, Drugs and Low Blood Sugar
Contrary to popular belief, diabetes is not the only cause of low blood sugar; it is simply the most common cause. Interestingly enough, the drugs used to treat diabetes that lower the level of glucose are the main reasons why diabetics often suffer from hypoglycemia.
The flowing drugs are often associated with low blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
- Chlorpropamide (Diabinese)
- Tolazamide (Tolinase)
- Acetohexamide (Dymelor)
- Glipizide (Glucotrol)
- Tolbutamide (Orinase)
- Glyburide (Micronase)
- Glimepiride (Amaryl)
- Repaglinide (Prandin)
- Nateglinide (Starlix)
Diabetics sometimes suffer from hypoglycemia because they take too much medication or do not eat enough. A common cause is injecting insulin without eating a meal. Drinking alcohol and eating too little or dieting can lead to the problem as well.
2. Other Medical Conditions
There are some other medical conditions that can cause low blood sugar. Non-diabetics that suffer from its symptoms should contact a doctor immediately because it can be a sign of serious health problems. Other causes of hypoglycemia include the following:
- Excessive consumption of alcohol or alcoholism
- Kidney problems
- Tumors in the pancreas
- Gland deficiencies and other endocrine disorders
- Medications like quinine
How Is Low Blood Sugar Treated?
1. Immediate Initial Treatment
Every diabetic and his or her loved ones should know the basics of treating low blood sugar. Fast treatment is vital in order to prevent damage.
Fortunately, there is a simple and fast treatment for diabetics that begin experiencing symptoms. The diabetic should consume one of the following foods or medications right away:
- Three to four glucose tablets
- A tube of glucose gel
- Four to six pieces of hard candy
- An ordinary sized candy bar or a standard bag of M&Ms
- ½ cup of regular soda pop or fruit juice
- One cup of milk
- Four or five saltine crackers or tortilla chips
- A tablespoon of honey, molasses, or maple syrup (This should be placed on the tongue so it will be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly.)
- A tablespoon of sugar
Check the blood sugar level 15 minutes after eating to see if it has returned to normal (over 70 mg/dL). If it has not, another serving of one of the foods listed above might be necessary. If it still does not normalize, contact your doctor right away.
If the diabetic starts to pass out, a glucagon injection might be necessary. If no home glucagon kit is available, call 911 for paramedics. The paramedics will have glucagon and other first aid supplies with them.
Persons that are having a severe case of hypoglycemia should not drive themselves to the hospital because of a risk of passing out and crashing. Never give food to a person that is starting to pass out, because he or she may choke.
2. Treatment of the Underlying Condition
If medication you are taking is the cause of hypoglycemia, your doctor will likely change the medication or the dosage. That is why it is so important to call the doctor whenever you suffer from symptoms of hypoglycemia.
If other problems are causing low blood sugar, such as a tumor in pancreas, other treatments, including surgery, are available. The doctor will have to perform medical tests to see if these are needed.
How to Prevent Low Blood Sugar
The good news is that low blood sugar can be easily prevented. Most diabetics can avoid it if they follow their doctor’s advice and stay on their diabetes maintenance plan.
The most important steps for preventing low blood sugar include:
- Regularly testing your blood.
- Eating whenever blood sugar levels fall below 100 mg/dL. Diabetics should keep a supply of food with them so they can replenish blood sugar.
- Eating regularly—three meals a day or more—to maintain an adequate level of blood sugar.
- Taking steps to prevent diabetes by getting plenty of exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle.
- Stopping the consumption of alcohol, which can cause low blood sugar and other health problems.