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Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels fall dangerously low. This condition is seen more commonly in people with diabetes, however, non-diabetic individuals are not entirely safe from it either. In this article, we explore the health conditions beyond diabetes that can cause hypoglycemia. We also look at treatment options and the dietary changes that can help prevent low blood sugar.
Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels drop below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). Severe hypoglycemia can be life-threatening if a person does not receive treatment and return the blood sugar to safe levels. Blood sugar, aka glucose, is the body’s primary source of energy. When levels fall too low, the body does not have enough energy to function to its fullest potential. This is called hypoglycemia.
Insulin helps the body’s cells to absorb sugar from the bloodstream. A person with diabetes may take insulin shots because their body is resistant to insulin or because it does not produce enough. In diabetic individuals, taking too much insulin can cause blood sugar levels to drop too low. Not eating enough or exercising too much after taking insulin can also have the same effect.
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However, people who do not have diabetes can also experience hypoglycemia. In people without diabetes, hypoglycemia can result from the body producing too much insulin after a meal, causing blood sugar levels to drop, called reactive hypoglycemia. Reactive hypoglycemia can be an early sign of diabetes.
Drinking too much alcohol can make it difficult for the liver to function. It may no longer be able to release glucose back into the bloodstream, which can cause temporary hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia can also be a side effect of:
- malaria medication
- certain antibiotics
- certain pneumonia medications
Some groups have an increased risk of medication-induced hypoglycemia, including children and people with kidney failure.
Hepatitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the liver. If the liver cannot produce or release enough glucose, this can cause problems with blood sugar levels and lead to hypoglycemia.
- Adrenal or pituitary gland disorders
- Kidney problems
The kidneys help the body process medication and excrete waste. Defective kidneys can cause the medication to build up in the bloodstream. This type of buildup can change blood sugar levels and lead to hypoglycemia.
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- Pancreatic Tumor
Pancreatic tumors are rare, but they can cause the organ to produce too much insulin. If insulin levels are too high, blood sugar levels will drop.
When a person has hypoglycemia, they may feel:
- unable to concentrate
- unable to focus their eyes
- confused (delirium)
The best line of treatment is to look for and treat the underlying cause of hypoglycemia. However, glucose tablets can help to raise blood sugar levels in emergency situations.
According to research, the best way to treat mild hypoglycemia is to:
- take 15 grams of glucose
- wait for 15 minutes
- measure blood glucose levels again
- repeat this treatment if hypoglycemia persists
The easiest ways to receive glucose are:
- taking a glucose tablet
- injecting glucose
- drinking fruit juice
- eating carbohydrates
A non-diabetic hypoglycemia diet can help keep blood sugar levels balanced. The following tips can help prevent hypoglycemia: eating small meals regularly (rather than three large meals), eating every 3 hours, eating a variety of foods (including protein, healthy fats, and fiber) and avoiding sugary foods.