Signs of low blood sugar may vary from person to person, depending on its severity. Low blood sugar is called hypoglycemia. This condition occurs when blood sugar levels fall below 60-70mg/dl (read as milligrams per deciliter). Normal blood sugar for a healthy adult is 70 – 100 mg/dl. Hypoglycemia may affect anybody, but this is usually more prominent in individuals of extreme age, such as infants and the elderly. This most commonly occurs in diabetics.
Causes of low blood sugar levels
Blood sugar is regulated by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Too much insulin decreases glucose in the blood, causing hypoglycemia. Too little sugar and too much insulin can cause hypoglycemia. Causes include:
– Improper use of insulin during insulin replacement therapy, or over-medication on oral anti-diabetic drugs
– Pancreatic diseases and adrenal insufficiency, which cause an imbalance in production of insulin.
– Certain medications such as beta blockers, pentamidine, and sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim
– congenital hyperinsulinism, a congenital defect altering the normal pace of insulin release.
– Kidney diseases which cause a delay in the excretion of excess insulin in the blood.
– Poor appetite causing poor oral intake
– Too much alcohol
– Severe systemic infection
– Liver diseases which delay the release of stored sugar
– Too much exercise without eating
Signs and Symptoms of low blood sugar
Signs of low blood sugar may appear gradually. During the earlier stages, a person may experience symptoms such as:
– cold and clammy skin
– tingling and numbness of the fingertips
– sweating not caused by activity
– mild dizziness
As hypoglycemia progresses, symptoms may slowly involve the functioning of the nervous system. These include:
– irritability, restlessness, and mood changes
– confusion, difficulty in focusing and thinking
– weakness, fatigue, and drowsiness
– difficulty in performing basic activities such as walking and talking
– a drop in the body temperature
If left untreated, more severe symptoms such as loss of consciousness, seizures, and even coma may occur. Allowing blood sugar levels to drop below 40 mg/dl can be fatal. The organs of the body no longer have the energy needed to perform bodily functions. Prolonged hypoglycemia can cause irreversible brain damage and heart problems, and may even cause death.
Diagnosis of low blood sugar
Hypoglycemia is determined by a simple blood glucose test. A small drop of blood is placed on a strip and then inserted into the blood glucose monitor. Blood glucose monitoring kits are available in drug stores for home use for constant monitoring. A test called HBA1C (hemoglobin A1C) may also be taken to check the sugar levels over the past 3 months. Other blood tests may also be taken to assess liver, kidney, and pancreas function.
Management of low blood sugar
Signs of low blood sugar may be relieved simply by eating. They are the body’s way of saying that it needs more energy. For more severe cases, the doctor may prescribe intravenous glucose solutions for faster results. Severe hypoglycemia usually involves underlying health conditions. It is important to treat hypoglycemia immediately to prevent brain damage and other complications. Diabetics must pay special attention in taking their medication.