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Hypoglycemia
In Non-Diabetic Persons
 
(Low Blood Glucose)

Reactive Hypoglycemia & Fasting Hypoglycemia
Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

 

Islets of Hope Publication HG-2-2006

 

Hypoglycemia
(LOW Blood Glucose)

Onset:  Rapid; sudden, may not be preventable.

Causes Related to Diabetes: Missing snacks or meals, eating too little food, taking too much insulin, too much activity, side effects of medications taken, hot weather or baths, or a combination of these things.

Causes Unrelated to Diabetes: Reacting fasting hypoglycemia, fasting hypoglycemia (which may indicate an underlying disease).

ALERT:  All lows are potentially dangerous and can lead to seizure, convulsion, unconsciousness, and death if not treated.  If you are unable to test someone's blood glucose, always assume the person is low and treat for low blood glucose.  Call 911 and test blood glucose as soon as possible.

Important Medical Disclaimer

All material found in this publication is intended to provide you with general information and should in no way be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice.

 

Hypoglycemia In Non-Diabetic Persons
Reactive Hypoglycemia & Fasting Hypoglycemia
Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention
Islets of Hope Publication HG-2-2006

You may use and distribute this information freely, but please reference www.IsletsofHope.com

Contents

Page

   3        Symptoms of Non-Diabetes Related Hypoglycemia

   4        Normal Blood Glucose Ranges

   5        Reactive Hypoglycemia

   7        Fasting Hypoglycemia

   9        Conditions Occurring in Childhood and Infancy

   9        Points to Remember

 

Hypoglycemia in People Who Do Not Have Diabetes

Two types of hypoglycemia can occur in people who do not have diabetes:

Reactive hypoglycemia is not usually related to any underlying disease.  It is a "postprandial" (after eating) hypoglycemia reaction that usually occurs within four hours after eating.

Fasting hypoglycemia (postabsorptive) is usually related to an underlying disease.

Symptoms of Non-Diabetes Related Hypoglycemia

Symptoms of hypoglycemia in diabetes non-diabetes causes are similar.  It is important to remember that people can react differently to low blood glucose levels.  Generally, symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

Mild Hypoglycemia
Increased or sudden hunger
Feeling shaky, dizzy or nervous
Pounding heartbeat
Drowsiness, feeling tired
Sweating (cold and clammy)
Numbness/tingling around mouth
Headache or stomach ache

Moderate Hypoglycemia
Any mild symptoms above, plus:
Personality change
Irritability
Confusion and/or difficulty concentrating
Slurred or slow speech
Poor coordination

Severe Hypoglycemia
***CALL 911 ASAP!***

Any of the above symptoms plus:
Loss of consciousness
Seizures and/or convulsions
Death

Hypoglycemia can also happen while you are sleeping. You might:

  • Cry out or have nightmares
  • Find that your pajamas or sheets are damp from perspiration
  • Feel tired, irritable, or confused when you wake up
  • Wake up with high blood glucose or a headache.  

Although very rare in persons not taking insulin should someone become unconscious for any reason, call 911.  Severe hypoglycemia requires injection of glucagon to save the person's life.

 

Normal and Target Blood Glucose Ranges (mg/dL)
 

Normal  blood glucose levels in people who do not have diabetes:
Upon waking (fasting) 70 to 110

After meals

70 to 140
Target blood glucose levels in people who have diabetes:
Before meals 90 to 130
1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal less than 180
Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) 70 or below

Important Note:  Your doctor may provide you with different target ranges so be sure to know he/she recommends for your blood glucose levels.

Glucose levels are measured in either:

  • Milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), in the United States
  • Millimoles per liter (mmol/L) (for those using metric system)

Comparatively:

  •  72 mg/dL = 4 mmol/L
  •  90 mg/dL = 5 mmol/L
  • 108 mg/dL = 6 mmol/L
  • 126 mg/dL = 7 mmol/L

Glucose levels vary before and after meals, at various times of day, as well as throughout the night in persons with diabetes as well as in non-diabetics.

 

Reactive Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia Unrelated to Diabetes

In reactive hypoglycemia, symptoms occur within 4 hours of eating. People with this condition are usually advised to follow a healthy eating plan recommended by a registered dietitian.

Fasting hypoglycemia can be caused by certain medications, critical illnesses, hereditary enzyme or hormonal deficiencies, and some kinds of tumors. Treatment targets the underlying problem.

Diagnosis

If you are diagnosed with hypoglycemia, your doctor will try to find the cause by using laboratory tests to measure blood glucose, insulin, and other chemicals that play a part in the body's use of energy.  You cannot diagnose reactive or fasting hypoglycemia with a hand-held glucose meter.

A blood glucose level of less than 70 mg/dL at the time of symptoms and relief after eating will confirm the diagnosis.  Because a personal blood glucose monitor cannot be used to diagnose reactive hypoglycemia you need to see your doctor if you feel you might be suffering from non-diabetes related hypoglycemia.  To diagnose reactive hypoglycemia, your doctor may:

  • Ask you about signs and symptoms

  • Test your blood glucose while you are having symptoms (The doctor will take a blood sample from your arm and send it to a laboratory for analysis.

  • Check to see whether your symptoms ease after your blood glucose returns to 70 or above (after eating or drinking).

Note:  The oral glucose tolerance test is no longer used to diagnose hypoglycemia; experts now know that the test can actually trigger hypoglycemic symptoms.

 

Causes and Treatment of Reactive Hypoglycemia

The causes of most cases of reactive hypoglycemia are still open to debate. Some researchers suggest that certain people may be more sensitive to the body's normal release of the hormone epinephrine, which causes many of the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Others believe that deficiencies in glucagon secretion might lead to hypoglycemia.

A few causes of reactive hypoglycemia are certain, but they are uncommon. Gastric (stomach) surgery, for instance, can cause hypoglycemia because of the rapid passage of food into the small intestine. Also, rare enzyme deficiencies diagnosed early in life, such as hereditary fructose intolerance, may cause reactive hypoglycemia.

To relieve reactive hypoglycemia, some health professionals recommend taking the following steps:

  • Eat small meals and snacks about every 3 hours
  • Exercise regularly
  • Choose high-fiber foods
  • Avoid or limit foods high in sugar, especially on an empty stomach
  • Eat a variety of foods, including meat, poultry, fish, or non-meat sources of protein; starchy foods such as whole-grain bread, rice, and potatoes; fruits; vegetables; and dairy products.

Your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian for personalized meal planning advice. Although some health professionals recommend a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, studies have not proven the effectiveness of this kind of diet for reactive hypoglycemia.

 

Fasting Hypoglycemia

Fasting hypoglycemia can be caused by certain medications, critical illnesses, hereditary enzyme or hormonal deficiencies, and some kinds of tumors. Treatment targets the underlying problem.

In reactive hypoglycemia, symptoms occur within 4 hours of eating. People with this condition are usually advised to follow a healthy eating plan recommended by a registered dietitian.

Diagnosis

Fasting hypoglycemia is diagnosed from a blood sample that shows a blood glucose level of less than 50 mg/dL after an overnight fast, between meals, or after exercise.

Causes and Treatment of Fasting Hypoglycemia

Causes include certain medications, alcohol, critical illnesses, hormonal deficiencies, some kinds of tumors, and certain conditions occurring in infancy and childhood.

Medications

Medications, including some used to treat diabetes, are the most common cause of hypoglycemia. Other medications that can cause hypoglycemia include

  • Salicylates, including aspirin, when taken in large doses
  • Sulfa medicines, which are used to treat infections
  • Pentamidine, which treats a very serious kind of pneumonia
  • Quinine, which is used to treat malaria

If using any of these medications causes your blood glucose to drop, your doctor may advise you to stop using the drug or change the dosage.

Other Causes of Fasting Hypoglycemia

Alcohol - Drinking, especially binge drinking, can cause hypoglycemia because your body's breakdown of alcohol interferes with your liver's efforts to raise blood glucose. Hypoglycemia caused by excessive drinking can be very serious and even fatal.
 


Critical Illnesses -
Some illnesses that affect the liver, heart, or kidneys can cause hypoglycemia. Sepsis (overwhelming infection) and starvation are other causes of hypoglycemia. In these cases, treatment targets the underlying cause.
 
Hormonal Deficiencies - Hormonal deficiencies may cause hypoglycemia in very young children, but usually not in adults. Shortages of cortisol, growth hormone, glucagon, or epinephrine can lead to fasting hypoglycemia. Laboratory tests for hormone levels will determine a diagnosis and treatment. Hormone replacement therapy may be advised.
 
Tumors  - Insulinomas, insulin-producing tumors, can cause hypoglycemia by raising your insulin levels too high in relation to your blood glucose level. These tumors are very rare and do not normally spread to other parts of the body. Laboratory tests can pinpoint the exact cause. Treatment involves both short-term steps to correct the hypoglycemia and medical or surgical measures to remove the tumor.

Conditions Occurring in
Infancy and Childhood

Children rarely develop hypoglycemia. If they do, causes may include

  • Brief intolerance to fasting, often in conjunction with an illness that disturbs regular eating patterns. Children usually outgrow this tendency by age 10.

  • Hyperinsulinemia, which is the excessive production of insulin. This condition can result in transient neonatal hypoglycemia, which is common in infants of mothers with diabetes. Persistent hyperinsulinemia in infants or children is a complex disorder that requires prompt evaluation and treatment by a specialist.

  • Enzyme deficiencies that affect carbohydrate metabolism. These deficiencies can interfere with the body's ability to process natural sugars, such as fructose and galactose, glycogen, or other metabolites.

  • Hormonal deficiencies such as lack of pituitary or adrenal hormones.

Points to Remember

Fasting hypoglycemia can be caused by certain medications, critical illnesses, hereditary enzyme or hormonal deficiencies, and some kinds of tumors. Treatment targets the underlying problem.

In reactive hypoglycemia, symptoms occur within 4 hours of eating. People with this condition are usually advised to follow a healthy eating plan recommended by a registered dietitian.

You cannot self-diagnosed non-diabetic hypoglycemia; see your doctor.

Hypoglycemia can also be caused by medications.  Aspirin in large doses, and sulfa drugs used to treat infections can cause low blood glucose?

If you think your blood glucose is low, check it and treat the problem right away.  To treat hypoglycemia, take a fast-acting sugars of 15 carbohydrates (or whatever your care plan suggest).  Wait 15 minutes, and recheck your blood glucose. Repeat the treatment until your blood glucose is above 70.  Keep fast-acting sugars in the car, at work, school, and home —anywhere you spend time.

Be careful when you are driving. Check your blood glucose frequently and snack as needed to keep your level above 70 mg/dL.