Hypoglycemia without Diabetes

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Last updated on June 19th, 2016

Normally, hypoglycemia, also referred to as low blood sugar, is found in diabetic patients who take too much insulin or too much of their diabetic medications.  Both type 1 diabetics and type 2 diabetics can suffer from hypoglycemia; however, it is seen more commonly in type 1 diabetics who use insulin.  Hypoglycemia can be found in non-diabetics, however, and is due to many reasons.

The Definition of Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar is defined as a blood sugar level below a certain level, usually about 60-70 mg/dL.  You may have experienced it by feeling extremely hungry or weak.  It can occur after exercising a lot without having eaten something to sustain you prior to exercise.  This type of hypoglycemia is common and has probably been experienced by everyone at some time in their lives.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar can also be a medical problem unrelated to exercise.  This type of hypoglycemia results when the level of blood glucose in the bloodstream is too low to provide energy to the body.

Causes of Hypoglycemia in the absence of Diabetes

You can have hypoglycemia even if you aren’t diabetic and aren’t taking insulin.  Common causes of hypoglycemia without diabetes include the following:

  • Surgery on the stomach
  • Use of alcohol
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Problems with the pancreas
  • Problems with the kidneys
  • Problems with the liver
  • Certain medications

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia in the absence of Diabetes

The symptoms you experience from low blood sugar levels depend on how low the blood glucose level decreases.  There are a few different types of hypoglycemia, including these:

  • Mild hypoglycemia. When you have mild hypoglycemia, you can feel hungry or perhaps nauseous. You may have a rapid heart rate and may feel nervous or jittery.  You may develop sweatiness and your skin might turn clammy and cold.
  • Moderate hypoglycemia. In such cases, you often feel frightened, anxious, confused, or short-tempered.  You might experience blurry vision or unsteadiness in your gait so that you wobble when trying to walk.
  • Severe hypoglycemia. This type of hypoglycemia can cause unconsciousness.  It can also lead to seizures, coma, or death if the hypoglycemia isn’t treated properly.

The Treatment of Hypoglycemia

If you develop the acute onset of low blood sugar levels, you can treat it by eating something sweet or drinking a sugary beverage.  Some things you might try to increase your blood sugar levels include milk, soda pops, fruit juices, hard candies, and raisins.  If you have glucose tablets, you can use these to raise your blood sugar levels.  The effect will be short term so that you might have to continue to eat or drink something sweet so that the blood sugar stays up.

Hypoglycemia

If you are suffering from low blood sugar because of a health problem, you may need to have treatment for the underlying condition.  Talk to your doctor about treatments for the underlying condition and see whether or not factors like exercise, diet, or medications are playing a role in your hypoglycemic condition.

Emergency Treatment of Hypoglycemia

If you have mild to moderate low blood sugar levels and you don’t treat it immediately, this can result in severe low blood sugar.  If you become stuporous or unconscious as a result of hypoglycemia, you or someone close to you should call 911 so that paramedics can provide you with treatment that will turn around the low blood sugar condition as soon as possible.

If you suffer from a health condition that causes low blood sugar, you need to teach those near you, such as friends, family, and coworkers about the symptoms you are experiencing because of the low blood sugar and teach them what to do in case it happens and you can’t treat yourself.  You might also want to wear some type of ID bracelet or necklace that says you are prone to getting hypoglycemia so that you can be treated even when you are unconscious.

If you suffer from low blood sugar in the nighttime hours, you may wake up feeling extremely tired or may wake up with a headache. Nightmares are common in people who become hypoglycemic during their sleep.  Sweating caused by hypoglycemia at night may cause you to wake up with wet pajamas or wet bed sheets.

The Diagnosis of Hypoglycemia

In order to make the diagnosis of hypoglycemia, a physician will likely do a thorough physical examination and will ask you about your health and about any medications you happen to be taking.  The doctor will also do blood tests while you are fasting and after meals.  Sometimes eating a meal will cause your blood sugars to drop because your insulin overreacts to the carbohydrates in the diet.

Types of non-diabetic Hypoglycemia

There are actually two types of non-diabetic hypoglycemia.  One is reactive hypoglycemia and the other is called fasting hypoglycemia.  In reactive hypoglycemia, the body has problems secreting the right amount of insulin for the meal you eat.  The insulin levels become too high and the blood sugars drop. This is common in people who have prediabetes, previous stomach surgery, and some types of rare enzyme deficiencies that make it hard for the body to digest your food.

Medications that can cause reactive hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Alcohol, especially when taken in excess
  • Quinine (used for malaria)
  • Pentamidine (a type of antibiotic for pneumonia)
  • Sulfa drugs (antibiotics used for bladder infections and other infections)
  • Salicylates (such as aspirin used for pain)

Fasting hypoglycemia can occur if you have problems with your kidneys, heart, or liver.  It can also occur if you have decreased levels of growth hormone, cortisol, epinephrine, or glucagon. Certain pancreatic tumors that secrete insulin can also result in fasting hypoglycemia.

References:

  1. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in People Without Diabetes. http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/tc/hypoglycemia-low-blood-sugar-in-people-without-diabetes-topic-overview. Accessed 5/17/16.
  2. What is non-diabetic hypoglycemia? http://www.hormone.org/questions-and-answers/2013/nondiabetic-hypoglycemia. Accessed 5/17/16.
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