It is normal for most people to experience changes in their blood sugar throughout the day. Blood sugar typically rises after a meal, and lowers after exercise or during a fast.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) occurs when the glucose levels in the bloodstream dip below 70 mg/dl. At this point, the brain and body are not getting enough energy to operate correctly. When this happens it can cause symptoms such as hunger, anxiety, weakness, and confusion.
Occasional low blood sugar may be unnoticeable, but severe low blood sugar is considered a medical emergency. When blood sugar dips below 55 mg/dl it can cause seizures, comas, or even death.
The only way to know for sure if a person’s blood sugar is too low is by testing it. Any person who has been diagnosed with hypoglycemia or any type of diabetes should test their blood sugar frequently to make sure it is in a healthy range.
Hypoglycemia is a rare condition in otherwise healthy people. It is more commonly seen as a side-effect of diabetes, either type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes.
Patients diagnosed with diabetes may experience low blood sugar from illness, skipping meals, over-exercising, or drinking alcohol. They can also experience low blood sugar from diabetes medication such as insulin.
Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar most often occurs in diabetic patients. But there are some other causes.
Below are some reasons a person may experience low blood sugar:
- Types of medication, such as quinine, which is prescribed to treat malaria.
- Excessive drinking
- Illness such as kidney disease
- Long-term starvation
- Insulin overproduction. This could be the cause of a tumor.
- Hormone deficiencies. For example, children can experience hypoglycemia when they produce too little growth hormone.
Normal blood sugar can range between 70-99 mg/dl fasting, and up to 140 mg/dl two hours after eating.
When blood sugar dips below 70 mg/dl this is considered low blood sugar. At this point, a person with low blood sugar may experience symptoms because their body and brain are not working properly.
Some symptoms of low blood sugar include:
- Rapid heartbeat
Mild low blood sugar may not seem like an emergency, but it should be treated right away. Severe hypoglycemia can result in the following symptoms:
The “15-15 Rule”
Low blood sugar can be treated with glucose tablets or with other types of foods made up of quickie digested carbohydrates. Examples of this include juice and candy.
The rule of thumb, or the “15-15 rule” is to have 15 grams of carbohydrates and then check blood sugar after 15 minutes. If blood sugar is still not in range, have another 15 grams of carbohydrates and continue the process.
Hypoglycemic patients who experience low blood sugar often can carry glucose tablets with them. If they have symptoms of low blood sugar, or they test their blood and their blood sugar is below 70 mg/dl, they should take their glucose.
In case the patient does not have glucose tablets, any sugary food or drink can work. Some examples of foods that have 15 grams of carbs are:
- Four ounces of fruit juice or soda
- One tablespoon of sugar or honey
- Hard candy or gumdrops
- Six large jelly beans
Hypoglycemic patients may also want to wear a medical bracelet to alert others of their condition in case of a medical emergency.
If a person’s blood sugar level has reached a dangerously low level of below 55 mg/dl, this could require medical intervention.
Any person experiencing serious symptoms of low blood sugar should call an ambulance or have someone call it for them. Serious symptoms include:
- Blood sugar levels below 55 mg/dl
- Passing out
- Inability to eat or drink
- Confusion or trouble walking or talking
The best treatment for hypoglycemia is to follow a lifestyle plan that prioritizes keeping blood sugars balanced. This involves following a healthy diet of well-timed meals, and moderate exercise.
People who are diabetic or hypoglycemic should check their blood sugar often, especially after exercising or if they have skipped a meal. This is when low blood sugar is likely to occur.
Hypoglycemics may be prescribed medication to raise or stabilize blood sugar. Some medications that treat low blood sugar are: