Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is most common in people who have diabetes. If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes and need more information about low blood sugar, see the topics:
You may have briefly felt the effects of low blood sugar when you've gotten really hungry or exercised hard without eating enough. This happens to nearly everyone from time to time. It's easy to correct and usually nothing to worry about.
But low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can also be an ongoing problem. It occurs when the level of sugar in your blood drops too low to give your body energy.
Ongoing problems with low blood sugar can be caused by:
Symptoms can be different depending on how low your blood sugar level drops.
If you've had hypoglycemia during the night, you may wake up tired or with a headache. And you may have nightmares. Or you may sweat so much during the night that your pajamas or sheets are damp when you wake up.
To diagnose hypoglycemia, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your health and any medicines you take. You will need tests to check your blood sugar levels.
You may also need tests to look for or rule out health problems that could be affecting your blood sugar levels.
You can treat a sudden episode of low blood sugar by eating or drinking something with sugar in it. Some examples of "quick-sugar foods" are fruit juice, soda, milk, raisins, and hard candy. You may also take glucose tablets. This is usually all that's needed to get your blood sugar level back up in the short term.
If your hypoglycemia is caused by a longer-term health problem, you may need treatment for that condition. There also may be steps you can take to avoid low blood sugar. For example, talk to your doctor about whether changes in your diet, medicines, or exercise habits might help.
If mild or moderate hypoglycemia isn't treated right away, it can turn into severe hypoglycemia. People with severe hypoglycemia usually pass out. If you pass out, someone should call 911 right away.
If you have a health problem that tends to cause low blood sugar, it’s a good idea to teach your family, friends, and coworkers about what symptoms to watch for and what to do. You may also want to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.
Learning about hypoglycemia:
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Other Works Consulted
- Amiel SA (2005). Iatrogenic hypoglycemia. In CR Kahn, et al., eds., Joslin's Diabetes Mellitus, 14th ed., pp. 671–686. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Cryer PE (2008). Glucose homeostasis and hypoglycemia. In HM Kronenberg et al., eds., Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 11th ed., pp. 1503–1533. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Cryer PE (2008). Hypoglycemia. In AS Fauci et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2305–2310. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Endocrine Society (2009). Evaluation and management of adult hypoglycemic disorders: An endocrine society clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 94(3): 709–728. Available online: http://www.endo-society.org/guidelines/final/upload/FINAL-Standalone-Hypo-Guideline.pdf.
- Glaser B, Leibowitz G (2005). Hypoglycemia. In CR Kahn et al., eds., Joslin's Diabetes Mellitus, 14th ed., pp. 1147–1175. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Masharani U, Gitelman SE (2011). Hypoglycemic disorders. In DG Gardner, D Shoback, eds., Greenspan's Basic and Clinical Endocrinology, 9th ed., pp. 657–674. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Service FJ (2007). Hypoglycemia. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 3, chap. 9. New York: WebMD.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Alan C. Dalkin, MD - Endocrinology|
|Last Revised||March 16, 2011|
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