What Causes Low Blood Sugar

All engines need fuel and your body is no exception. In your body's case the main fuel source is blood sugar, also called glucose.

Blood sugar is naturally produced by the body through digestion. When you eat carbohydrates such as bread and rice, your body breaks down those carbohydrates into various sugar molecules. Insulin, secreted from the pancreas, helps your bloodstream absorb glucose to fuel your body's cells.

Causes of low blood sugar

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, occurs when the body's glucose level (the level in the blood) drops below 70mg/dL. Symptoms usually begin to appear at levels below 60mg/dL, and levels below 50mg/dL begin to affect brain function. It can happen at any age, but more often in small children and the elderly. There are several reasons for blood sugar levels to drop. Some simply relate to outside sources and some relate to diabetes.

If you have diabetes, your pancreas is not producing a hormone called insulin (Type 1) or your cells are resistant to the actions of insulin (Type 2). If your body can't absorb the sugar, it tends to build up in the bloodstream to dangerously high levels. Taking insulin or other drugs to lower blood sugar levels allows your body to use the glucose. If you take too much insulin or antidiabetic medications, your levels can drop too low.

  • If you have diabetes, you can have hypoglycemia that results from improper foods, odd mealtimes, or excessive exercise, even if you take your medications properly.
  • If you haven't eaten for a while, your pancreas signals your liver to begin to process stored energy, glycogen, into your blood stream. Your body now has what it needs to function until you eat again.
  • Too much alcohol without eating can actually prevent your liver from releasing the stored glycogen into your system.
  • Illnesses of the liver such as hepatitis, kidney disorders, adrenal insufficiency, and anorexia can result in hypoglycemia.
  • It isn't common, but a tumor on the pancreas may cause it to produce too much insulin and result in low blood sugar. Sometimes the tumor itself may use the glucose.
  • People who have had gastric bypass surgery are more prone to excessive insulin release resulting in hypoglycemia.

Controlling low blood sugar

Don't ignore the symptoms. Your brain needs glucose to function. Among the symptoms of low blood sugar are confusion, trembling, clammy skin, irritability and heart palpitations. Untreated hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness and even death in people with diabetes, so it's important to talk to your doctor about testing to discover the root causes of your hypoglycemia symptoms.

If you have diabetes, it's important to follow your physician's management plan and monitor carefully.

If you don't have diabetes but notice symptoms of hypoglycemia, eating several small meals a day will help keep blood sugar levels constant.

It's important to treat a person suffering from low blood sugar, especially a person with diabetes. Any type of juice or water with sugar added will increase blood sugar levels. Other quick treatments are cake icing or glucose gel.

If you or someone else you know has diabetes, most hospitals offer diabetes education classes taught by registered dietitians specializing in diabetes. Learn more about appropriate eating, exercising, medications and controlling hypoglycemia.

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