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Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be mild, like sleepiness and light-headedness, or severe, like seizures and comas.

Sleepiness is one of the common symptoms of hypoglycemia. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Sleepiness is one of the common symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be mild, like sleepiness and light-headedness, or severe, like seizures and comas. Learn more about the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia occurs when glucose levels (also known as blood-sugar levels) drop too low. Though hypoglycemia is most commonly associated with diabetes medications, people without diabetes can also experience the condition. Because glucose is the primary fuel for brain cells, it's important to learn to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Failing to treat the condition can lead to serious complications, including death.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Because the brain is so reliant on glucose, many symptoms of hypoglycemia are related to brain function.

The major symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Hunger
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Trouble forming sentences

Because going without food for an extended period of time can trigger hypoglycemia, symptoms can occur during sleep. People suffering hypoglycemia during the night may experience nightmares or night sweats, and may wake up excessively tired and irritable. Left untreated, hypoglycemia symptoms can be severe, including seizures, coma, unconsciousness and even death.

Causes of Hypoglycemia

As anybody who has felt a sugar rush after eating a candy bar can attest, sugar or more accurately, the sugar molecule known as glucose is an important component of the bodys energy supply. In fact, glucose is the only fuel that brain cells use to keep functioning. Without glucose, the brain would shut down. Glucose, derived from foods such as carbohydrates and fruits, is converted into energy through insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin acts as a facilitator, helping glucose from the bloodstream reach the body's cells, where it is turned into energy. Surplus glucose goes to the liver, where it is stored for future use.

For most people, the body senses how much insulin is needed based on how much glucose is in the bloodstream, and produces that amount. For diabetics, though, the pancreas doesnt produce enough insulin, or the cells dont respond to it. This leads to high blood-sugar levels. To counter this, many diabetes medications aim to decrease glucose levels in the bloodstream. Unfortunately, they can sometimes cause these levels to drop too low, causing hypoglycemia. Behavioral factors can also cause hypoglycemia.

Excessive alcohol consumption, for example, can prevent the liver from releasing its glucose reserves. Eating disorders such as anorexia (or even just skipping meals) can also wreak havoc on blood-sugar levels.

Hypoglycemia Diagnosis and Treatment

The most accurate way for a doctor to diagnose hypoglycemia is through measuring blood-sugar levels. Once identified, hypoglycemia is usually easily treated with glucose tablets, dietary changes and exercise plans. For many, simply eating small and more frequent meals throughout the day helps ward off hypoglycemia.For people on diabetes medications, experts suggest carrying a quick-fix snack at all times, which can temporarily boost glucose levels in an emergency. Additionally, a medical bracelet is recommended since severe attacks of hypoglycemia can lead to seizures or unconsciousness. Hypoglycemia requires vigilance, but is usually easily treated. Most hypoglycemic people live normal and active lives once they understand how the condition works and recognize the steps they can take to prevent it.

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