Hypoglycaemia is defined as a fall in the blood sugar level below a value of approx. 60 mg/dl or 3.3 mmol/l. Hypoglycaemia is not a disease in its own right in the medical sense, but rather a condition caused by other circumstances or diseases.
What is hypoglycemia?
After the first examination, a so-called blood sugar test is carried out right at the beginning. With a small prick of the fingertip, a test strip is used to draw a small amount of blood, which can then be evaluated on site using a blood glucose meter. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Hypoglycemia.
One speaks of hypoglycemia when the blood sugar level falls below a certain level. Important organs such as the brain are not sufficiently supplied with glucose (sugar), which can lead to neurological deficits.
Hypoglycemia can usually be recognized by its symptoms, but symptoms do not always have to be present. Depending on the severity of the hypoglycemia, the symptoms are divided into three groups.
The first symptoms – also called autonomic or adrenergic drawing – manifest themselves as ravenous hunger, nausea, vomiting, sweating and tachycardia. In the further course, neurological deficits are added such. B. Confusion, coordination and vision problems. The symptoms are signs that the glucose deficiency has already affected the central nervous system. This group of symptoms are called neuroglycopenic signs.
If hypoglycemia is not subsequently treated, it can lead to paralysis, hypoglycemic shock and seizures. The third group of symptoms is called non-specific signs. There are concomitant symptoms that are not characteristic of hypoglycemia. However, nausea, dizziness and headaches can be the first signs of hypoglycaemia.
The causes of hypoglycemia are very diverse. Often there are underlying diseases such. B. Diabetes mellitus. In this case, an excessively high dose of insulin can trigger the hypoglycaemia, so that one speaks here of a so-called diabetic-related hypoglycaemia.
Another form is the so-called reactive hypoglycemia. This often affects overweight and obese people. Due to a high intake of carbohydrates, too much insulin is released into the blood in the short term, which causes the sugar content to drop rapidly.
Other causes are heavy physical strain at work and in sports, since the body’s energy reserves are used up here, so that hypoglycaemia can occur if there is no compensation. Alcohol abuse means that the body has an increased need for sugar because the organs need the energy to break down the alcohol. As a result of alcohol abuse, the liver is usually severely damaged, so that it is no longer able to store or form new glucose, or only to a limited extent.
The hormones also have an influence on the blood sugar level, as they are necessary helpers to produce glucose from amino acids. In various diseases such as B. cancer, kidney disease and pancreatitis, various hormones such as cortisol can no longer be formed, which can result in hypoglycemia.
Medications, gluten and fructose intolerance, and food allergies can also be causes of hypoglycemia.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include cravings, tremors, and difficulty concentrating. In many patients, hypoglycaemia causes severe tiredness and exhaustion, often associated with impaired consciousness. These symptoms are accompanied by increased irritability and inner restlessness. In some cases, hypoglycaemia can cause skin irritation.
Those affected then temporarily suffer from severe itching and redness that can occur all over the body. However, hypoglycemia can also cause serious complications. If the hypoglycaemia is not corrected quickly, the affected person can lose consciousness or even fall into a coma.
In less severe cases, hypoglycaemia can make those affected feel very unwell. In most cases, there is also a feeling of illness that slowly decreases after the blood sugar level has stabilized. Hypoglycemia usually occurs suddenly or over the course of a few hours and lasts for a few hours.
If the blood sugar level is balanced at an early stage, the symptoms and complaints can be reduced, but the lack of concentration and dizziness often persist for some time. Hypoglycaemia can have life-threatening consequences in diabetic patients. If the patient does not get insulin promptly, they may lose consciousness and fall into a diabetic coma.
Diagnosis & History
Hypoglycemia is diagnosed by the general practitioner. Symptoms such as trembling, sweating, ravenous hunger and difficulty concentrating are the first indications. After the first examination, a so-called blood sugar test is carried out right at the beginning. With a small prick of the fingertip, a test strip is used to draw a small amount of blood, which can then be evaluated on site using a blood glucose meter.
During the evaluation, it is important to note whether the patient is diabetic or not. Hypoglycaemia of less than 60 mg/dl is referred to in non-diabetics. In diabetics, however, a value of less than 80 mg/dl can be considered hypoglycemia, as they are usually used to higher blood sugar levels.
Mild hypoglycaemia such as B. can occur after sporting activity are relatively harmless. If it occurs more frequently, however, it can lead to getting used to it, so that life-threatening complications in the form of hypertension and CHD (coronary heart disease) can arise.
Since hypoglycemia sometimes has no symptoms, a mild hypo can be overlooked and severe hypoglycemia can develop immediately. The course of severe hypoglycaemia with hypoglycemic shock can be life-threatening. Since this condition is often accompanied by paralysis and unconsciousness, immediate medical attention is required.
Studies in type 2 diabetics have shown that recurrent severe hypoglycaemia increases the risk of later developing dementia.
Hypoglycemia severely restricts the patient’s life. It is not uncommon for those affected to faint and lose consciousness, which can mainly occur as a result of strenuous physical activity or sporting activities. There is a lack of concentration and a lack of coordination. The sufferer suffers from ravenous hunger and often trembles.
Furthermore, inner restlessness occurs and the patient suffers from sweating or panic attacks. If unconsciousness occurs, the patient may be injured in a possible fall or suffocate afterwards. As a rule, help from another person is always necessary. If the hypoglycaemia lasts for a longer period of time, it can also cause damage to the organs or paralysis.
In many cases, these are not reversible and therefore cannot be treated afterwards. Hypoglycemia also increases the risk of dementia. In most cases, hypoglycaemia is treated acutely by adding glucose. There are no further complications. However, the symptoms and consequential damage depend on the duration of the hypoglycaemia.
When should you go to the doctor?
If symptoms such as cravings, weakness, and tremors are noticed, hypoglycemia may be the cause. A doctor should be consulted if symptoms persist for several days or recur within a few weeks. If other symptoms such as irritability, inner restlessness or lack of concentration appear, medical advice is also required. Low blood sugar indicates diabetes or another serious condition that, if you haven’t already, needs to be diagnosed and treated. Therefore, a doctor should be consulted at the first sign of hypoglycaemia.
If signs of paralysis, panic attacks or coordination disorders occur, the best thing to do is to call an ambulance or take the person concerned to the nearest clinic immediately. Individuals suffering from diabetes mellitus, cancer, pancreatitis, or hormonal imbalances should speak to their healthcare practitioner if signs of hypoglycemia occur. Overweight people and alcoholics also belong to the risk groups, which should clarify the symptoms mentioned immediately. Children who are showing signs of low blood sugar are best seen by their pediatrician.
Treatment & Therapy
In the treatment of hypoglycaemia, a distinction can be made between acute therapy and long-term therapy. The form of therapy depends on the blood sugar levels.
Immediate therapy can look like this:
If the blood sugar level is less than 80 mg/dl, a meal is usually sufficient to restore the glucose balance.
With values below 60 mg/dl, one or two pieces of glucose (1 BU) help so that the symptoms of hypoglycaemia recede. After about 30 minutes, a blood sugar measurement should be carried out.
In the case of severe hypoglycaemia with values below 50 mg/dl, emergency medical care is urgently required, since only an intravenously administered dose of glucose can help to balance the blood sugar level again. Furthermore, close blood sugar controls are required over a longer period of time.
The long-term therapy includes an intensive education of the person concerned at the beginning. If there is hypoglycaemia in a diabetic, the relatives should also learn how to use glucagon pre-filled syringes so that they can be injected into the thigh or buttocks of the person concerned in an emergency.
Preventive measures for hypoglycaemia include education and training for those affected and their families. Anyone who suffers from frequent hypoglycaemia should check their blood sugar level regularly. There are inexpensive devices for home use that can also be carried with you due to their handiness.
It is important that those affected eat regularly and healthily, especially when physical stress is pending. Alcohol should be avoided. Patients should always carry glucose with them for immediate therapy. Furthermore, it makes sense to keep a hypoglycemia diary in which it is noted when and during which activities the hypoglycemia occurs.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) requires follow-up care even after timely and successful treatment. On the one hand, this applies to the regeneration of the weakened organism and, on the other hand, to the prevention of renewed hypoglycaemia. First of all, patients affected by hypoglycaemia allow themselves physical rest and also avoid mental excitement.
Both have an effect on the blood sugar level, which should be kept at a stable level after successfully treating hypoglycaemia as long as the person has to recover from the disease. Part of the aftercare is therefore the initial renunciation of sport, which must be maintained over a longer period of time. In addition, with a view to the future, measures must be planned to counteract hypoglycaemia during physical activity.
This includes, above all, regular meal breaks and, if necessary, measuring the blood sugar level. The same applies to the patient’s working life, especially when physically more or less strenuous activities are carried out. The aftercare of an illness-related hypoglycaemia also includes working out an adequate menu.
This not only includes the type and size of the meals, but also the times at which they are taken. A professional nutritionist can offer useful support. In addition, those affected arrange regular check-ups with their doctor in order to keep an eye on the long-term sugar levels in the blood and to be able to give in quickly if necessary.
You can do that yourself
Hypoglycemia can be due to a number of different causes. What self-help measures the patient can take depends on what is causing the disorder.
Hypoglycaemia can result from diabetes mellitus, for example. Hypoglycaemia can occur again and again, especially in diabetics who are poorly controlled with medication. Those affected can counteract this by having their blood sugar levels tested regularly and by using the prescribed medication as prescribed.
Overweight people who tend to binge eating often suffer from reactive hypoglycaemia. If too many carbohydrates are consumed during a binge, the body reacts by producing excessive amounts of insulin, which can cause blood sugar levels to drop drastically. If this happens more often, those affected must change their diet. This may require the help of a therapist in the case of addictive behavior. This also applies to people whose sugar levels are regularly too low due to continued alcohol abuse. Will high amounts of alcoholsupplied, the body uses more sugar to break down the toxin again. A liver that has already been damaged by alcohol can also only store a small amount of glucose, which exacerbates the problem.
In addition, heavy physical exertion, for example during sports, can lead to the consumption of more sugar than is taken in. This can be prevented by regular breaks and small snacks.