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Hypoglycemia: What happens when your blood glucose level drops suddenly?

Untreated hypoglycemia can lead to seizure, loss of consciousness and even death.

Hypoglycemia could be a side effect of drugs used to treat diabetes. People who don't have diabetes may also experience sudden drop in their glucose level due to various reasons. Read on to know the causes and symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : January 7, 2021 9:51 AM IST

Glucose is a type of sugar that comes from the food you eat, and it is your body's main source of energy. Having blood sugar or glucose levels higher or lower than normal range may indicate an underlying health condition that require medical attention.

For adults without diabetes, a normal blood glucose level after fasting (not eaten anything for at least eight hours) should be less than 100 mg/dL. When taken two hours after eating, a normal blood glucose level is 90 to 110 mg/dL.

High blood sugar or hyperglycemia is a hallmark sign of diabetes. Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, is also often related to diabetes treatment. People who don't have diabetes may also experience sudden drop in their glucose level due to a variety of medical conditions. For many people, a fasting blood sugar of 70 mg/dL or below could signal hypoglycemia, which needs immediate treatment.

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Causes of hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia could be a side effect of drugs used to treat diabetes, specifically medications that increase insulin levels in the body. Insulin a hormone secreted by your pancreas enables the glucose to enter the cells and provide the fuel your cells need. But too much insulin may cause your blood sugar level to drop too low. Hypoglycemia can also occur if you skip meals, eating less than normal, or exercising more than usual while taking diabetes medication.

Hypoglycemia is less common in people without diabetes. You may get it if you accidentally take someone else's oral diabetes medication. Quinin, a prescription drug used to treat malaria, may also cause hypoglycemia, especially in children or in people with kidney failure. Other causes of low blood sugar in people without diabetes include:

  • Excessive alcohol drinking without eating
  • Severe liver illnesses such as severe hepatitis or cirrhosis
  • Kidney disorders that can affect your body's ability to excrete medications
  • Long-term starvation due to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa
  • Insulinoma, a rare tumor of the pancreas, and other tumors that can cause overproduction of insulin
  • Deficiency of key hormones that regulate glucose production. For example, too little growth hormone can lead to hypoglycemia in children. Certain adrenal gland and pituitary tumor disorders can also result in hormone deficiencies.

Although, hypoglycemia usually occurs when you haven't eaten for long, sometimes it may occur after eating certain meals high in sugar. This is because your body produces more insulin than you need. Called reactive hypoglycemia or postprandial hypoglycemia, it commonly occurs in people who have had stomach bypass surgery.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia

If you have low blood sugar, you may experience symptoms like blurry vision, rapid heartbeat, sudden mood changes, sudden nervousness, unexplained fatigue, headache, pale skin, hunger, shaking, dizziness, sweating, difficulty sleeping, skin tingling, and trouble thinking clearly or concentrating.

In people with hypoglycemic unawareness, their blood sugar can drop without them noticing it. If not given immediate treatment, they can faint, experience a seizure, or even go into a coma.

You may be required to eat high-sugar foods or drinks or take medications to quickly bring your blood sugar back to normal. For long-term relief, identifying and treating the cause of hypoglycemia is important.

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