Glucose, or blood sugar, is the body’s basic source of energy. Glucose gives the body its energy to run, play, work, sleep, and be functional, including its ability to think and use brain power. Without glucose, the body can’t do much of anything. Hypoglycemia is the condition when the body is low on precious glucose.
Although hypoglycemia is most often associated with low blood sugar as it relates to diabetes, other conditions can sometimes create hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a condition or an indicator of a disease, and is not classified as a disease. Alcohol, some cancers, some medications, heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure, hormonal deficiencies, and critical illnesses can all cause interruptions in insulin which can lead to hypoglycemia.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia can vary depending on the severity of the blood sugar loss. Symptoms may include tremors, anxiety, hunger, sweating, heart palpitations, difficulty concentrating, abnormal behavior, the inability to complete routine tasks, seizures, loss of consciousness, and visual disturbances like purple spots in the vision, blurry vision, or double vision. Weakness, a feeling of shakiness, and nausea are not uncommon symptoms, sometimes with or without headaches.
The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone which allows the body’s breakdown of food into glucose molecules to be absorbed into the bloodstream. These molecules of glucose are necessary for daily functioning. If the body is unable to produce either insulin or can not break down the food into glucose molecules, then blood sugar begins to drop. Insulin also tells the liver how it should be managing the glucose in the body, thus a liver malfunction or an inability for the body to relay the correct messages to the liver produces hypoglycemia. Besides diabetes, common causes of hypoglycemia may include the accidental or intentional use of another patient’s oral diabetes medication, alcohol, some medications, some critical illnesses, non-beta-cell tumors, and deficiencies in endocrine.
Hypoglycemia most often occurs during a fasting state, meaning digestion from the previous meal is finished and the stomach and small intestines have been cleared of food. Sometimes, although rare, hypoglycemia can occur after a meal if the body is producing too much insulin.
Diagnosis of hypoglycemia typically occurs when the patient requests a visit with the physician due to symptoms. In these cases, the physician may request the patient fasts overnight prior to the visit so that a fasting blood glucose level can be drawn. The physician is likely to request the patient document the symptoms and their activities surrounding the symptoms. The physician may also want the patient to document when the symptoms disappear so that they can determine the causes through the activities just prior to the disappearance of symptoms.
After these incidents have been documented, a physical examination and a thorough medical history should be assessed, as well as a review of the documented activities and symptoms. This will give the physician an opportunity to ask for clarification.
The first stage of treatment is to raise the blood glucose levels to make the patient more comfortable and to provide a safer level of sugars in the system. Sometimes raising the glucose levels can be done by placing candy, fruit, or a protein source in the mouth, as well as eating glucose tablets when symptoms initially occur. In more severe cases, oral or injectable glucose may be necessary in order to raise glucose levels to a more reasonable level.
Treating the cause, if possible, is the second stage of treatment. If the hypoglycemia is caused by a tumor, then it should be promptly removed. If the underlying cause of the hypoglycemia is related to a medication, then changing the medication should take care of the issue. Alcohol should be removed from the patient’s intake, and a close monitoring of the types of food the patient is ingesting can also make a huge difference in the life of a hypoglycemic. Other illnesses may already be undergoing treatment, which may or may not need to be altered in order to treat the hypoglycemia.
It may take quite a while for the physician to determine the cause of the hypoglycemia if the cause is not readily known. This means monitoring for an extended period of time the levels of glucose in the blood and how it is affected by specific foods or activities.
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