Low Blood Sugar

What is Hypoglycemia?

Also called low blood glucose or low blood sugar, hypoglycemia occurs when blood glucose drops below normal levels.

After a meal, glucose, an important source of energy for the body, is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the body’s cells. Also, Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, helps the cells use glucose for energy. However, during hypoglycemia, these glucose levels fall too low, either due to a side effect of drugs used for the treatment of diabetes or to a mismatch of medicine, food, and/or exercise. Without enough glucose, the body cannot perform its normal functions. A person’s blood sugar is considered low when it drops below 70 mg/dl.

As soon as blood glucose begins to fall, glucagon, another hormone made by the pancreas, signals to the liver to break down glycogen and to release glucose into the bloodstream. At that point, blood glucose will then rise toward a normal level.

Non-diabetic hypoglycemia is much less common, but can occur in people who do not have diabetes. Too much insulin in the blood leads to these low blood glucose levels. The two types of non-diabetic hypoglycemia are reactive hypoglycemia, which happens within a few hours of eating a meal, and fasting hypoglycemia, which may be related to a disease. Possible causes of reactive hypoglycemia include having pre-diabetes or being at risk for diabetes, stomach surgery, or having rare enzyme deficiencies. Possible causes of fasting hypoglycemia include medicines such as pentamidine and sulfa drugs, alcohol, serious illnesses, low levels of certain hormones, or tumors.

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Two paths that glucose can go through in the body


Hypoglycemia can lead to many symptoms such as hunger, shakiness, nervousness, sweating, dizziness or light-headedness, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty speaking, anxiety, and weakness. Hypoglycemia can also occur during periods of sleep with possible signs including crying out or having nightmares, finding pajamas or sheets damp from perspiration, or feeling tired, irritable, or confused after waking up.


“Some people with diabetes do not have early warning signs of low blood glucose, a condition called hypoglycemia unawareness.”



Hypoglycemia can happen suddenly, but, thankfully, it is usually mild. It can be treated quickly and easily by eating or drinking a small amount of a quick-fix food in order to raise blood glucose. Some possible options include 3 or 4 glucose tablets, 1 serving of glucose gel, ½ cup of any fruit juice, ½ cup of a non-diet soft drink, 1 cup of milk, 5 or 6 pieces of hard candy, or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can get worse and cause confusion, clumsiness, or fainting. Severe hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, coma, and even death. To help prevent hypoglycemia, people with diabetes should consider consulting with a health care provider about how to take medications, designing a meal plan fit for them, and monitoring their daily activities.
Garrett Wylie