Jefferson University Hospitals

Hypoglycemia

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Hypoglycemia occurs most often in patients with diabetes, and happens when blood sugar is too low. Other factors can cause this condition, including diet, certain medications and other diseases. 

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and are experiencing hypoglycemia, our team realizes that controlling diabetes can be very difficult, confusing and at times even overwhelming. Through education and physician interaction from the time that you are first evaluated, we will give you the support you need to understand and manage this disease to prevent damage to your kidneys.

If you do not have diabetes and have been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, it may be caused by an underlying condition with your pancreas, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands or a metabolic problem that runs in your family. Our physicians provide expert diagnosis and treatment of metabolic diseases and diseases of the endocrine system.

Although not specific to hypoglycemia alone, here are some possible signs and symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shakiness
  • Palpitations
  • Anxiety and confusion
  • Hunger
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Irritability

In people with diabetes, symptoms can occur when their blood sugar is 60 mg/dL or lower. People without diabetes will have a blood sugar level of less than 50 mg/dL.

If left untreated, hypoglycemia can get worse and may cause the following:

  • Coma
  • Nightmares or bad dreams
  • Poor concentration or coordination
  • Fainting
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Double vision

There are two types of hypoglycemia in people who don't have diabetes, reactive hypoglycemia and fasting hypoglycemia.

Reactive Hypoglycemia (After Meals)

Reactive hypoglycemia occurs within 4 hours following a meal that contains a lot of simple sugars. Therefore, it's important to avoid or limit your sugary food intake, especially on an empty stomach. You also want to eat a well-balanced diet, eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day and eat food if you're consuming alcohol.

If you've recently had gastrointestinal surgery, talk to your doctor to see if dietary changes are still recommended. 

Fasting Hypoglycemia

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

Your physician will order a lab test to measure your blood glucose, insulin and other chemicals to determine if you have hypoglycemia. Imaging studies may also be performed.

  • Hypoglycemia is confirmed in a person with diabetes on insulin or a person taking medication if their blood glucose level is less than 60 mg/dL.
  • A blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL at the time of your symptoms and relief after eating will confirm the diagnosis of reactive hypoglycemia.
  • A blood glucose level below 50 mg/dL after fasting, between meals or after physical activity will confirm the diagnosis of fasting hypoglycemia.

Treatment depends on the underlying condition.

Your physician will order a lab test to measure your blood glucose, insulin and other chemicals to determine if you have hypoglycemia. Imaging studies may also be performed.

  • Hypoglycemia is confirmed in a person with diabetes on insulin or a person taking medication if their blood glucose level is less than 60 mg/dL.
  • A blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL at the time of your symptoms and relief after eating will confirm the diagnosis of reactive hypoglycemia.
  • A blood glucose level below 50 mg/dL after fasting, between meals or after physical activity will confirm the diagnosis of fasting hypoglycemia.

Treatment depends on the underlying condition.

Your physician will order a lab test to measure your blood glucose, insulin and other chemicals to determine if you have hypoglycemia. Imaging studies may also be performed.

  • Hypoglycemia is confirmed in a person with diabetes on insulin or a person taking medication if their blood glucose level is less than 60 mg/dL.
  • A blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL at the time of your symptoms and relief after eating will confirm the diagnosis of reactive hypoglycemia.
  • A blood glucose level below 50 mg/dL after fasting, between meals or after physical activity will confirm the diagnosis of fasting hypoglycemia.

Treatment depends on the underlying condition.