Signs of Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)

What is Hypoglycemia?

Do you have hypoglycemia?

You might have heard of the term, or perhaps not. Yet, the medical community is increasingly recognizing that hypoglycemia (more commonly known as low blood sugar) can impact behavior, mood and even lead to symptoms resembling mental illness! Generally speaking, hypoglycemia exists when your blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL. A normal blood sugar level is considered to be between 80-120 mg/dL.

Avoiding or treating hypoglycemia is not just a matter of eating more consistently, although that may come into play. A diagnosis can require adjustments in sleep, stress reduction, carbohydrate ingestion and much more.

I am a Type 1 diabetic, so I often experience hypoglycemia as a result of over-medication. In other words, if I take too much insulin or don't eat enough, I'll become disoriented and confused. In fact, I have a card in my wallet that states, "I am a diabetic. I am not intoxicated." The symptoms of hypoglycemia present in a similar manner to a person who has had too much alcohol. Speech can get slurred, balance thrown off, and some people even have difficulty forming words. This is because your vital organs (heart and lungs) are taken care of first in the case of low blood sugar. As your brain loses energy, things start to shut down, including judgment and other cognitive functions.

Blood sugar meter used to test for hypoglycemia
Blood sugar meter used to test for hypoglycemia | Source

How Can You Get Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia occurs when glucose (the sugar that is converted from carbohydrates you ingest) is depleted. Sometimes this can result when glucose is not released into your bloodstream fast enough. This can happen when you eat a meal high in fat because fatty substances slow the absorption of glucose. For example, pizza, fries or burgers are all difficult meals for people with hypoglycemia and/or diabetes. The condition also results when too much insulin is present in the body.

Insulin has been described by my doctor as the "key" that unlocks cells to allow sugar in. We all need sugar to provide energy which is why people with undiagnosed diabetes feel sluggish and tired. They are not getting the benefits of energy from food they eat, due to a deficiency of insulin. As blood sugar levels build up in the body, the natural response is to flush out the excess as waste. This is why diabetics feel thirsty all the time and have to go to the bathroom frequently.

If you are being treated for diabetes with medications other than, or in addition to insulin, you may be at risk for hypoglycemia. The primary reason is that the intended effect of these medications is to lower high blood sugar which is usually indicative of the disease of diabetes. At times, dosage may be too high, causing hypoglycemia as a result.

Any person that is being treated for diabetes may experience low blood sugar as a result of: (1) not enough carbohydrates, (2) too much insulin or other medications, or (3) too much exercise.

Hypoglycemia can also result from liver disease, a hormonal imbalance, or even a tumor in the pancreas. Alcoholics sometimes suffer from hypoglycemia because the liver plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels (releasing stored glucose to provide energy when you are not eating). When the liver is "distracted" by the task of detoxifying excess alcohol, it cannot properly help keep blood sugar levels consistent.

If blood tests reveal low blood sugar, your doctor will likely run additional tests to pinpoint the cause. You may be restricted from driving or performing physical exercise until the reason for the hypoglycemia is determined to reduce the risk of potential injury.

Do You Have Hypoglycemia or Diabetes?

Signs of hypoglycemia
Signs of hypoglycemia | Source

Symptoms of Hypogycemia

Symptoms vary from person to person. If you have any question about whether your blood sugar levels are in the proper range, contact your doctor for proper screening.

You may experience some or all of these symptoms if you have hypoglycemia:

  • Sudden sweats - face, hands and feet in particular
  • Difficulty speaking - words do not come out properly
  • A sense of imbalance - like you are going to faint
  • Difficulty walking in a straight line
  • Confusion
  • Sudden anger or irritability
  • Sudden thoughts of helplessness and unworthiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Pounding heart/rapid heartbeat
  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme hunger
  • Headaches
  • Sudden anxiety or nervousness
  • Shaking/trembling
  • Numbness - my mouth and lips often get numb
  • Feeling tired or extremely weak
  • Hallucinations (rare, but may occur)

The lower your blood sugar, the more severe the symptoms. Unfortunately, some people may develop "hypoglycemia unawareness" over time, which can lead to dangerous low sugar levels before the patient realizes his or her condition.

How Can You Treat Hypoglycemia?

Proper treatment of hypoglycemia depends on its cause. For patients with diagnosed diabetes, the reason is usually too much medication/insulin. As soon as you feel symptoms, treat the low blood sugar first, and then test. If you are wrong in guessing that you are hypoglycemic, you can then dose with extra insulin or medicine.

Most people require about 15 grams of fast-absorbing carbohydrates, ideally glucose tablets to treat hypoglycemia. Do not ingest protein-based foods, or those high in fat because they will slow the absorption of the critically needed sugar. Good sources include: 2-3 glucose tablets, 4-6 ounces of orange juice or regular soda, at least 4 hard candies, or - my personal favorite - a handful of Skittles.

You should start to feel better about 10-15 minutes after treatment. I like to sit quietly and listen to music or look at a magazine before getting up and resuming activity, if possible.

Overnight low blood sugar episodes are different. You don't usually feel them coming on because you are asleep. Each person may react differently, as well. For me, my heart races and I wake up unable to fall back asleep. I usually have really strange, complicated dreams too. A cousin of mine with diabetes has had a number of seizures resulting from hypoglycemia. His family has had to call the paramedics on several occasions. You can try to prevent this from occurring by avoiding alcohol, eating a bedtime snack, and even setting your alarm to test your blood sugar in the middle of the night so that treatment is possible beforehand.

Its can be a fine line for Type 1 diabetics, in particular. On one hand, you want to take enough insulin to push blood sugar levels into the normal range, but since the pancreas does not create any insulin on its own, dosage has to account for minute changes in daily activities and conditions including illness and exercise.

What it Feels Like to Have Low Blood Sugar

Hypoglycemia is hard to experience with but easy to treat
Hypoglycemia is hard to experience with but easy to treat | Source

Is Hypoglycemia Dangerous?

The answer to this question is: it depends. On its own, low blood sugar can lead to medical complications, or even death in severe cases. Extreme hypoglycemia can result in convulsions or a coma. Left untreated, a patient may die as the body literally shuts down. If you have a hypoglycemic loved one, be alert to subtle changes in mood and behavior. You might spot the symptoms of hypoglycemia before they do. When a person is conscious, you can encourage them to drink juice or soda to help treat the low blood sugar. If they have fainted, however, you should immediately call 9-1-1 for medical assistance. Rubbing glucose gel on the inside of their mouth may help, but not if the patient is convulsing.

Hypoglycemia is scary - both for the person experiencing it and anyone around them. I constantly worry about experiencing low blood sugar when driving or running. I could end up in a serious car accident as a result of hypoglycemia if I become confused while driving. When I'm running, I am concerned about being far away from medical assistance without any means of treating the low blood sugar episode. To help in these instances, I always wear a medical identification bracelet and carry a cell phone with me at all times.

Be sure to seek professional medical assistance for diagnosis and treatment of hypoglycemia.  Your doctor will probably suggest revisions to your diet, reduction of stress and potentially an adjustment of sleep habits.  A healthier lifestyle can often reduce the severity of the condition and extend the life of the patient.

Be Aware of Hypoglycemia Symptoms

© 2011 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 56 comments

Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Frightening but incredibly valuable at the same time. You have certainly covered the subject in great detail and this Hub will hopefully alert people affected by the symptoms to the dangers at an early stage. Voted up, useful and awesome!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Gordon - it is quite frightening to experience low blood sugar. I am fortunate enough to have my diabetes pretty well controlled, but stress and lack of sleep can throw my system off. I appreciate the vote and the comment. Best, Steph


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

I had no idea hypoglycemia could be so very dangerous or that it was associated with diabetes. The only two people I ever knew who had it were not diabetic. I did know about orange juice as a quick fix for low blood sugar though. Thanks for a terrific, informative, hub.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Robie - for me, its the worst aspect of having diabetes. I have known a few non-diabetics with it, however, one of which was a heavy drinker (hmmmm...) Anyway, thank you for the comment and I'm glad to provide some helpful information on hypoglycemia.


ocbill profile image

ocbill 5 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

The situations that can arise if an episode comes are pretty grim. Always good to eat properly and/or have an emergency healthy snack nearby.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Exactly Bill! I always carry a granola bar, glucose tabs and GU energy gels with me to address hypoglycemia if it occurs while I am out.


Niki Hampton profile image

Niki Hampton 5 years ago from Oregon

What a great hub! There is so much focus on Diabetes and Hypoglycemia seems to get lost in it all. Even people who haven't been diagnosed should carry a snack for busy days just because it can be dangerous and repetitive.

Thanks for the awareness and interest!


jennysbus profile image

jennysbus 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Hi, Yeh my mum is type 2.

great Hub!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Niki - I agree! Even without a diagnosis of diabetes or hypoglycemia, people's moods can change when they get overly hungry and their blood sugar drops. Thank you for the comment, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi jennysbus, I hope your mom is healthy and doesn't experience these complications! Best, Steph


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Very nice...you have written a very informative hub....I really enjoyed the video where the guy comes up with the three things on how to explain how it feels...voted up


Manna in the wild profile image

Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

Nicely done. Great information.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Cogerson - I really liked the video too. Its hard to explain sometimes how it feels to have hypoglycemia. Thank you for the vote - cheers, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Manna in the wild!


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 5 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi stephhicks, Thank you for all this great and valuable information !


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

This is such good information on Hypoglycemis. The videos are wonderful. Well researched. Worth the time it takes to read and study! Rated up. :)vocalcoach


Fay Paxton 5 years ago

Thanks for covering this subject in such excellent detail. You have shared some very important information.

voted up/very useful


chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

Thanks for writing this hub and raising awareness of this disease.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you everyone! I found it kind of ironic that 2 days after publishing this hub, I had a terrible hypoglycemic reaction over night. I had been trying to bring my blood sugar down all day and ended up giving myself too much insulin before bed. It was quite frightening - probably my worst low blood sugar in the years I've had diabetes.

You can never be too prepared or too careful! Steph


Betty Johansen profile image

Betty Johansen 5 years ago

You make a good point that affects non-diabetics. You said insulin is the key that allows sugar into cells. In other words, insulin is the key that allows for storage of sugar, as opposed to utilization of sugar. That's why the fitness gurus say, "Sugar is your enemy." Sugar calls forth insulin and insulin sends sugar into storage, and we get FAT.

A fabulous hub! Very personal and informative.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Right Betty! Too much insulin production can definitely make you fat.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago

Great information. I'm even more amazed knowing you ran the marathon despite your condition. My mom was diabetic, so I know about the dangers of low glucose level. Thanks for sharing and rating it up.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you anginwu! I have had to work hard over the years to avoid hypoglycemia when running long distances. Its not always perfect, but I stay prepared with a cell phone and food to treat a low blood sugar. Cheers, Steph


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Definitely have been there and done that with my brother-in-law and it's not pretty. I've literally had to run off the golf course to get a sugar boost - great information for everyone to know about!


Sun-Girl profile image

Sun-Girl 5 years ago from Nigeria

Great and awesome hub you actually shared in here.So much appreciated your wonderful teaching about hypoglycemia and honestly not even aware that too much in take of foods that contains fats can be dangerous to my health.Thanks stepphicks for your wonderful teaching.In fact am voting this great article of yours.LOVE IT A LOT!


CaravanHolidays profile image

CaravanHolidays 5 years ago from Wales UK

Thanks for putting up a well thought out and very useful hub. Definitely my 'hub of the week'.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Audrey - how scary! I do know that feeling. I went on a short hike one day without any food and started panicking as I felt a low blood sugar coming on. I considered asking other hikers for anything to eat/drink on the way back down.

Hi Sun-Girl, glad you learned about hypoglycemia. It is a challenging condition.

Thanks CaravanHolidays - I appreciate the comment. Best, Steph


fucsia profile image

fucsia 5 years ago

Very informative Hub. I am a nurse therefore these things I already know, but here they are explained very well. I think that this Hub is useful not only to person who has diabetes, but for all, to recognize the symptoms and be useful if someone is in hypoglicemia.

Thanks for sharing.

Fucsia


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you fuscsia - I am happy to hear that someone in the medical community finds this information helpful. I live with Type 1 diabetes, so I experience this symptoms often. I hope that the hub helps prevent some serious medical emergencies and even gets people to visit their doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Best, Steph


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

Thank you so much for this informative and excellent hub. I lost my daughter at the age of 29 through complications with Diabetes and I have suffered another shock to find out my 9 year old grandaughter has been diagnosed as a type 1 sufferer. She is currently trying to stabilise her blood sugars with the help of a fantastic health team. This hub will be booked marked for my own use to refresh my memory on this subject. Best wishes to you.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi D.A.L. - I am so sorry to hear about your daughter, and now your granddaughter. I think it is hard for some people to realize that diabetes is a serious, life-threatening disease because you don't look sick - when blood sugar levels are consistent. I am sending good wishes to you and your family and hope that your granddaughters levels will soon even out. Best to you, Steph


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

This is the kind of hub that is a tremendous service to others. I'll be referring to it again and recommending it to others. Thanks for all your work to put this together in one place for us to use. Voted up and useful.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

I really appreciate it, RTalloni. These are the kind of hubs that I love to write. Using my personal experience on an important topic. Best, Steph


jessicab profile image

jessicab 5 years ago from Alabama

Very informative article. I have some family memebers who need to take care of their health, which they all have diabtetes. I will refer them to your hub.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Jessicab - I hope that this will help people understand how to detect and treat dangerously low blood sugar. Best, Steph


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 5 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

Thanks..this almost sounds like what my daughter has been dealing with since Jan. She had her gallbladder removed in March, yet she still is experiencing many of the same issues. I wonder if she has benn checked. i'll look into this. Excellent information!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi bayoulady - definitely have your daughter get a blood test. A physician can give you advice as to how to keep her sugar levels consistent and avoid dangerous lows. Best, Steph


rajaramravi profile image

rajaramravi 5 years ago

worth hub


JJC13 profile image

JJC13 5 years ago from Liverpool

Hiya thanks for the great info this is a really good hub... Keep up the good work!!!


carriethomson profile image

carriethomson 5 years ago from United Kingdom

hey thanx for the information on this.. my friends dad recently had to be admitted because of overdose of the Diabetes medicine.. will forward this to her.. voted up..


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Carrie - best to your friend's dad. Hope they can figure out the dosage for his diabetes meds to prevent another bout of hypoglycemia


mauihawaii profile image

mauihawaii 5 years ago from Maui, Hawaii

And some people may fall into coma


Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 5 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Yes, low blood sugar really makes you feel terrible. I start shaking so much I can hardly prepare a snack to make me feel better. It is best to try and regulate it.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Hendrika, That happens to me too! Plus, I often feel so confused when I have hypoglycemia that I cannot choose a snack that will make me feel better. Take good care, Steph


Nigel 4 years ago

This is a very good article and a reminder that we should all be looking at our diets and supplements.

http://www.allnaturalremedies.com.au/

Nigel


ArtemD 4 years ago

Ouh, thats terible, are there any ways to prevent this?


missolive profile image

missolive 4 years ago from Texas

very informative and descriptive hub - great job! I'm viewing this hub via Stumble so I'll be sure to give it a thumbs up there as well :)

Sharing this with a co-worker.

Voted up!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you missolive - glad to hear that the hub came up via SU! Hope that the hypoglycemia information helps your co-worker. Cheers, Steph


kelleyward 4 years ago

I have type 1 diabetes also. I'm always cautious of people posting hubs about diabetes who don't have diabetes. It was wonderful reading a hub by a type 1 diabetic like me! Thanks for the info. I always get a strange feeling like numbness and tingling on my tongue if my blood sugar drops really low. Do you have this?


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Kelley,

Thank you! Yes, I get a tingling sensation in my mouth and tongue sometimes with low blood sugar. Actually, its usually after I have "hit bottom" and have started to come back up. It's so great to meet another Type 1 diabetic here. Please DM me with any links to diabetes hubs you write so I can be sure to catch them. Best to you, Steph


nicediabetes profile image

nicediabetes 4 years ago from Australia

Great article, I often have the same experiences so sometimes its good to hear other people go through the same thing


Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 years ago from Oklahoma

Excellent hub! It is usually difficult to find information on hypoglycemia. I have been hypoglycemic since I was twelve, and it is not linked to diabetes. In fact, they can't really pinpoint a cause. My glucose usually runs at 60 or lower, and can unpredictably drop no matter what or how much I eat. It was especially bad when breastfeeding, and I couldn't find any info then. You have really presented some good information. I am voting this up!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Sharkye11 - I have a very good friend who is also hypogycemic, but not diabetic. She carries glucose tablets, granola bars and small containers of OJ. She had an episode when we were out hiking a few weeks ago and it was very scary for me to witness from the "other side." Appreciate the comment and vote up! Thanks, Steph


sarah 3 years ago

I get like this when my sugar hits 80 or below but my doctor just says there is no problem so I get to continue feeling crappy


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Geesh, Sarah! I have times when a blood glucose reading hits below 90 and I feel shaky and awful. You might want to consider over the counter glucose tabs. They are as effective as juice or regular soda in helping you feel better, and you don't need an RX. One or two can help rapidly bring your levels back up, then have a small snack with carbs afterward.

You can stash them in a handbag or desk drawer. good luck! Stephanie


samikan profile image

samikan 3 years ago from online

Great post ......I have blood pressure low too but not related diabetic...

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