Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, occurs with tangible symptoms such as headache, tiredness, and fatigue. It can be caused by physiological conditions, such as strenuous sports or prolonged fasting. In other cases, it is associated with pathological situations. Let’s see how to orient ourselves on this issue. In this article, we will give you a complete guide about the symptoms of Low Blood Sugar.
Low blood sugar is a condition known in the medical field, such as blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Various factors, such as the severity of the condition and the patient’s general health, can have more or less important consequences. When glucose is lower than 60/70 mg/dl, it is called hypoglycemia. Normal blood glucose values are, in fact, between 65 and 110 mg/dl. Sugars are a fundamental resource for our body. In fact, they allow giving energy to the body for carrying out daily activities.
hypoglycemia is the rapid lowering of the concentration of glucose in the blood. It represents the most frequent acute complications of pharmacologically treated diabetes and can lead to a series of dangerous consequences. Sugars are a precious resource for the body, as they represent a significant source of energy. For this reason, when their blood levels drop too low, cells, tissues, and organs do not receive the fuel. They need to perform all their functions at their best.
Hypoglycemia is more common between meals and at night. The main reasons why it occurs include failure to comply with schedules and the type of diet, unexpected and strenuous physical activity, insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents taken in excessive quantities.
We talk about low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, or hypoglycemic crisis when blood glucose levels drop below 60-70 mg/dl.
Regulation of blood sugar
Glucose is an essential nutrient for our body; a bit like gasoline is for the car. For this reason, in the healthy subject, the glycemia (concentration of glucose in the blood) is kept relatively constant by the intervention of complex compensatory mechanisms (insulin, glucagon, etc.).
The greatest fluctuations in blood glucose occur after a large meal ( hyperglycemia ) and following prolonged fasting (hypoglycemia).
- Release of glucose contained in hepatic reserves ( glycogen );
- Conversion of some amino acids into glucose;
- Use of lipids to satisfy energy demands normally covered by sugars.
These compensatory interventions are mediated by a fine hormonal regulation system, which sees glucagon as the main actor. These events have the purpose of maintaining blood glucose at a sufficient level to ensure optimal functioning of nerve cells and other glucoside dependent tissues.
Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar
Hypoglycemia is a condition generally perceived by the subject, especially when it falls below 50 mg per 100 ml. This condition causes the release of a series of hormones that, after the appearance of a general sense of weakness due to the central nervous system’s suffering, stimulate the body to react.
Thus, the appearance of symptoms such as:
- Tremors ;
- Palpitations ;
- Intense hunger ;
- pallor ;
- Sialorrhea ;
- Convulsions ;
In medium-sized crises, the following can occur:
- Impairment of vision;
- Headache ;
- Sweating ;
- Difficulty concentrating ;
- Poor clarity;
- Drowsiness ;
- Behavioral changes
- In the most serious cases, it can go as far as loss of consciousness.
If not treated in time, hypoglycemia can lead to hypoglycemic coma, which generally occurs when the blood glucose concentration falls below 20 mg / dL. The appearance of the classic symptoms of low blood sugar is, however, linked, in addition to the absolute value of blood sugar, to individual tolerance and the speed with which the blood sugar level is lowered.
When the first symptoms of low blood sugar associated with hypoglycemia appear, prompt action is required. If the diabetic person is unable to deal with the situation alone, it is good that he seeks help from those around him to intervene in his place. First, if possible, capillary blood glucose should be measured. It is then necessary to stop any activity, sit down and take 15 grams of simple sugars (e.g., a glass of fruit juice, some candies, a sachet, and a half of sugar dissolved in water, etc.) to increase blood sugar immediately. Typically, recovery takes about 10-15 minutes.
If the person is confused or fainted, it is recommended not to attempt to swallow, as food could end up in the windpipe, hindering breathing. In case of an altered state of consciousness, it can be administered by injectionglucagon, a hormone capable of increasing blood sugar (note: this emergency kit is available in pharmacies and is easy to use).
Hypoglycemia – Causes
Various and numerous may be the etiological agents underlying this condition.
In most cases, hypoglycemia is supported by a pathology :
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Hormonal imbalances
- Cancer of pancreatic cells responsible for the secretion of insulin
- Other non-beta-cell tumor forms
In some cases, hypoglycemia can be the result of a poor diet. For example, in prolonged fasting followed by rapid reintroduction of sugars, the so-called “reactive” hypoglycemia occurs, caused by hypersecretion of insulin.
Even a strict diet, low in carbohydrates, the ‘ intolerance to fructose, or particularly prolonged physical activity (attention to morning practices, practiced on an empty stomach to promote weight loss ), can cause hypoglycemia.
What happens in diabetics
A hypoglycemic crisis occurs more frequently in patients taking insulin, sulphonylureas, and glinides (drugs that stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin).
In diabetic patients, the factors that can predispose to a hypo are:
- Taking too much insulin or oral medications that stimulate its release by the pancreas;
- Missing a meal or consuming an insufficient amount of food, especially carbohydrates, after taking insulin or tablets;
- Carrying out a particularly strenuous physical activity;
- Excessive alcohol consumption (especially on an empty stomach).
- Hypoglycemic crises can sometimes appear without obvious causes.
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What Happens in Healthy People
Although the body can avoid hypoglycemia even in prolonged fasting conditions, in particular cases, even in people who do not have diabetes, blood glucose levels can drop excessively.
The most frequent case is that of young women who show low blood sugar (weakness, sense of hunger, difficulty concentrating, etc.) in the late morning, especially after breakfast with many simple sugars.
Hypoglycemia can also depend on:
- Alcohol abuse ;
- Surgical interventions at the level of the gastrointestinal system, which modify the absorption of glucose;
Hypoglycemia is an acute situation that needs to be treated quickly. It is sufficient to consume foods with a high glycemic index ( sugar, honey, sweets, etc.) in mild forms. However, we must not forget to take carbohydrates with a moderate glycemic index ( fruit, whole grains, etc.) to avoid reactive hypoglycemia.
The most suitable diet for these individuals is also based on reducing sugars (sweets, snacks, confectionery products, bananas, raisins, etc.), favoring whole-grain foods with high protein content. In severe hypoglycemia with an unconscious patient (quite a frequent situation in people with diabetes treated with insulin), an intramuscular injection of glucagon or intravenous glucose is necessary.
Tips for preventing a hypo: Diabetic patients
- Never skip meals, especially breakfast;
- Take a snack half an hour before engaging in a sporting activity (for example, with an apple or half a banana );
- Don’t abuse alcohol ;
- Avoid prolonged fasting;
- Always carry some food rich in sugar with you (e.g., sweets, sugar in sachets, etc.);
- Inform family, friends, and work colleagues on how to recognize any hypo and how to intervene in such situations;
- Learn to recognize the warning signs of low blood sugar and check your blood sugar if you experience unusual symptoms.
If the state of hypoglycemia depends on physiological and non-pathological causes, as soon as you feel unwell, it is sufficient to drink or eat sweet food ( honey, candies, orange juice, etc.). After such a remedy, the body should recover quickly (usually within 15 minutes).
If the disorder persists or the seizures become more frequent, it is good to consult a doctor to investigate the possible causes.
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Low blood sugar in children
A rapid and consistent drop in blood sugar in children can lead to a ketosis process. Particular attention should be paid to children with type 1 diabetes as they are more exposed to the risk of hypoglycemic attacks.
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Low blood sugar in pregnancy
Hypoglycemia does not usually pose a particular risk to the fetus when it appears in pregnancy. Much riskier, however, is pregestational or gestational diabetes. However, in the event of hypoglycemia, the pregnant woman must undertake to restore normal values.
This is why it is important to maintain strict glycemic control during pregnancy and possibly from conception. A normal blood sugar prevents possible fetal malformations that can occur from the early stages of pregnancy.
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Low blood sugar and diabetes
Patients with diabetes can detect a hypoglycemic condition in some particular cases. The reduction in the blood glucose value may be due to excessive insulin dosage or other drugs that stimulate its production.
Also, if recurrent hypoglycemia is found after meals, this may indicate type II diabetes mellitus. For diabetic patients, it is essential not to skip meals, especially breakfast. Furthermore, prolonged fasting and the abuse of alcoholic beverages must be avoided.
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What to eat with low blood sugar?
When hypoglycemia is attributable to physiological situations, a few precautions are enough to restore normal values. For example, in a prolonged fast or following intense physical exertion, eating some fruit or a food rich in sugar is sufficient. Alternatively, a glass of water and a couple of teaspoons of sugar help regain a sense of well-being.
Therefore, it is important to know the glycemic index associated with each food to better manage one’s diet. It is advisable to consume foods with a high glycemic index for immediate intervention in mild hypoglycemic situations. However, to avoid a condition of reactive hypoglycemia, it is good to introduce foods with a moderate glycemic index, such as fruit and whole grains, into your daily diet.
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How does low blood sugar present?
Most people start noticing hypoglycemia symptoms when their blood sugar levels drop below the 70 mg / dL threshold. Various symptoms accompany this state. The most common are: hunger, headache, irritability, rapid pulse, paleness, sweat, tremors, weakness, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, and anxiety.
Hypoglycemia can be classified into three degrees:
- Mild, or characterized by the mere presence of adrenergic symptoms (tremors, sweat, palpitations) that the patient can manage independently;
- Moderate, when in addition to the adrenergic symptoms are added the neuroglycopenic ones (weakness and mental confusion) always managed independently;
- Severe, there is an altered state of consciousness, and the intervention of other people is required.
In this case, it is possible to have some particular sensations such as lack of coordination, poor concentration, asleep tongue, nightmares, and restless sleep up to fainting.
What to do in case of hypoglycemia?
If you feel dizzy, confused, or have a pounding heart, it is likely hypoglycemia. In this case, the first thing to do is stop any activity, sit down, and measure your blood sugar levels. If the values are low (take 15-20 grams of rapidly absorbed sugar (such as sugar or a spoonful of honey) and check your blood sugar after a quarter of an hour.
If your blood sugar does not rise, ingest the same amount of sugar again. So if the values remain below 70 mg/dl and if symptoms worsen, it is advisable to consult your doctor and take a vial (1 mg) of intramuscular glucagon. On the other hand, when the values are above 70 mg/dl, and there are still a few hours to go before the meal, take a quantity of slowly absorbed sugar, such as bread, crackers, chocolate.
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Low blood sugar, what to eat?
When you begin to notice the first symptoms of low blood sugar, you can:
- eat a candy;
- drink half a glass of fruit juice;
- so drink a cup of skim milk;
- drink half a glass of energy drink;
- eat a spoonful of honey (for faster absorption, place it under the tongue);
- eat a spoonful of sugar.
In this way, the doctor will have an advantage in finding the most appropriate therapy.
Can episodes of hyperglycemia be prevented?
- In the case of diabetes and hypoglycemia, some precautions can help prevent attacks, such as:
- follow a meal plan that includes three main meals interspersed with a snack;
- plan meals no more than 4-5 hours apart from each other;
- never skip meals;
- check your blood sugar regularly;
- always carry sweet food with you ;
- avoid fasting alcoholic beverages;
- plan an adequate food intake in case of scheduled intense physical activity;
- Ensure that at least one member of your family or friend knows how to control blood sugar in case of hypoglycemia and give glucose injections as needed.
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