Glucose, a form of sugar, is
the body's main fuel. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs when blood
levels of glucose drop too low to fuel the body's activity.
Carbohydrates (sugars and starches) are the
body's main dietary sources of glucose. During digestion, the glucose is
absorbed into the blood stream (hence the term "blood sugar"), which
carries it to every cell in the body. Unused glucose is stored in the liver as
There was a time when doctors couldn't get anywhere near Sherri Buffington with a needle. "I was deathly afraid of needles," recalls the 44-year-old senior legal secretary from Sicklerville, N.J. "I've been petrified of needles since I was a little kid."
Then in 2004, Buffington was diagnosed with diabetes. When oral medications didn't control her disease, her doctor prescribed an injectable prescription medication along with insulin. Taking these drugs meant she would have to inject herself, sometimes...
Hypoglycemia can occur as a complication of
diabetes, as a condition in itself, or in association with other
Blood Sugar Range
The normal range for blood sugar is about 60
mg/dL (milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) to 120 mg/dL, depending on
when a person last ate. In the fasting state, blood sugar can occasionally fall
below 60 mg/dL and even to below 50 mg/dL and not indicate a serious
abnormality or disease. This can be seen in healthy women, particularly after
prolonged fasting. Blood sugar levels below 45 mg/dL are almost always
associated with a serious abnormality.
How Does the Body Control Glucose?
The amount of glucose in the blood is
controlled mainly by the hormones insulin and glucagon. Too much or too little
of these hormones can cause blood sugar levels to fall too low (hypoglycemia)
or rise too high (hyperglycemia). Other hormones that influence blood sugar
levels are cortisol, growth hormone, and catecholamines (epinephrine and
The pancreas, a gland in the upper abdomen,
produces insulin and glucagon. The pancreas is dotted with hormone-producing
tissue called the islets of Langerhans, which contain alpha and beta cells.
When blood sugar rises after a meal, the beta cells release insulin. The
insulin helps glucose enter body cells, lowering blood levels of glucose to the
normal range. When blood sugar drops too low, the alpha cells secrete glucagon.
This signals the liver to release stored glycogen and change it back to
glucose, raising blood sugar levels to the normal range. Muscles also store
glycogen that can be converted to glucose.
What Are the Symptoms of Hypoglycemia?
A person with hypoglycemia may feel weak,
drowsy, confused, hungry, and dizzy. Paleness, headache, irritability,
trembling, sweating, rapid heart beat, and a cold, clammy feeling are also
signs of low blood sugar. In severe cases, a person can lose consciousness and
even lapse into a coma.
The symptoms associated with hypoglycemia are
sometimes mistaken for symptoms caused by conditions not related to blood
sugar. For example, unusual stress and anxiety can cause excess production of
catecholamines, resulting in symptoms similar to those caused by hypoglycemia
but having no relation to blood sugar levels.
Hypoglycemia in Diabetes
The most common cause of hypoglycemia is as a
complication of diabetes. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot use glucose for
fuel because either the pancreas is not able to make enough insulin or the
insulin that is available is not effective. As a result, glucose builds up in
the blood instead of getting into body cells.
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Your level is currently
If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.
People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.
Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.
However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.
Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.
One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
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