What Can Cause Low Blood Sugar? – Symptoms and Prevention

Posted December 18, 2019 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

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Have you ever wondered what can cause low blood sugar? In this article, we will go in-depth on what can cause low blood sugar, what symptoms it will cause, and how it can be prevented.

Low blood sugar, or also known as hypoglycemia, occurs when one’s blood sugar drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). If this is left untreated it can be life-threatening in some cases. Blood sugar (glucose) is your body’s main source of energy. If that source of energy is too low, your body won’t be able to function properly. Think of driving your car on fumes going uphill, and that will give you a pretty good idea of what we are dealing with.

As someone who has type 1 diabetes and has had to deal with countless low blood sugar events, I can tell you that it is perhaps one of the worst feelings. Luckily, I have not needed to be hospitalized for this, but if you do not treat low blood sugar soon enough it can put you in the hospital.

Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar

what can cause low blood sugar

There are a variety of symptoms related to low blood sugar and knowing these symptoms will help you catch it before it becomes life-threatening. Signs and symptoms may vary depending on how low your blood sugar is. A few of the first signs you may notice of low blood sugar are feeling shaky, dizzy, or sweating. The moment you notice these, check your blood sugar if you have a glucose meter, and proceed with treating it.

You may also begin experiencing sleepiness, anxiety, hunger, pale skin, rapid heartbeat, and crankiness. In some cases, close friends or family may be able to pick up on your symptoms before you do. It is important to become familiar and aware of these symptoms so that you know what it feels like. Driving, operating machinery, or handling other equipment under these conditions can not only be dangerous to yourself but to others.

If blood sugar continues to drop lower, symptoms may include blurred vision, confusion, passing out, and seizures. This can leave you with the inability to treat yourself. At this point, you must rely on someone else to provide treatment, and if the condition is still left untreated, the event could be fatal.

Who is Affected by This?

Those who do not have an illness or problems with hormones could be affected by low blood sugar, but it is unlikely. The majority of people affected are diabetics. Diabetics who are insulin-dependent are at a greater risk than those that have type 2 diabetes and are not using insulin. This is due to the fact that insulin is the main driver for affecting glucose levels.

Beyond diabetics, some may have problems with the production of certain hormones from organs. The pituitary glands and adrenal glands are producers of hormones that play a major part in regulating glucose. If these hormones get out of whack, then the result may be low blood sugar.

Those that have a critical medical condition may be prone to having their blood sugars drop as well. These illnesses could involve hepatitis or kidney problems that may make it difficult for your body to excrete medications. A tumor of the pancreas may also lead to an overproduction of insulin causing low blood sugar.

What Can Cause Low Blood Sugar?

The causes of hypoglycemia will vary depending on the person, which is made evident above. One main cause is called reactive hypoglycemia. Reactive hypoglycemia is a low blood sugar event that occurs after a meal high in carbohydrates. This may be due to the pancreas overproducing insulin. The glucose from the meal is already being digested and absorbed, meanwhile, the pancreas has been working extra hard to produce insulin. Thus, there is an overproduction of insulin resulting in lower than normal blood sugars. This, however, is not the norm unless there is a disorder with the pancreas, such as a tumor.

what can cause low blood sugar

Insulin-dependent diabetics may experience reactive hypoglycemia a lot more. With the more carbohydrates consumed in a meal, the more room there is for error, so it can be fairly easy to misjudge the amount of insulin is needed. Therefore, injecting too much insulin can be a common problem for those that use rapid-acting insulins.

Fasting hypoglycemia is when blood sugar drops due to going a period of time without giving the body the appropriate nutritional intake it needs to produce energy. This could also be caused by strenuous exercise if you haven’t had a meal in a few hours.

Those without a medical condition have the potential to suffer from fasting hypoglycemia, however, it is much more likely to happen to those who are on medication or have an underlying condition that makes it easier for blood sugars to drop.

Excessive alcohol consumption has the potential to impact blood sugars. Your liver, which is responsible for storing glucose, is also responsible for filtering alcohol out of the body. So, when alcohol is consumed, your liver tends to drop what it’s doing and turn its full attention to the alcohol in the body. Therefore, it stops releasing stored glucose even when if your body needs it, in order for it to perform its other responsibility. This results in a potential low blood sugar event. Check out our blog about diabetes and alcohol to learn more.

As mentioned in the above section, when hormones become off-balanced you may have an increased risk of having low blood sugar. These hormones include glucagon, amylin, epinephrine, cortisol, and growth hormone. Talk to your healthcare provider about running test to see if your hormones are in balance.

Kidney disease or kidney failure can lead to hypoglycemia as well. This is due to the kidneys’ lack of ability to excrete medications, such as insulin, out of the body. On top of that, a person’s appetite may decrease, and times of meals may change which can lead to low blood sugar levels.

Prevention and Treatment

Now that we’ve discussed what can cause low blood sugar, let’s get into how we can treat it. The simple solution to low blood sugar is carbohydrates. When your blood sugar is below 60 a snack or cup of juice consisting of about 15-20 grams of carbs will typically suffice. However, if you are a diabetic and your blood sugar has dropped while you have more units of insulin on board (insulin that is still active), then you may need more carbs. Start with 15-20 grams of carbs and check your blood sugar about 15 minutes after consuming the carbs. If your blood sugar has still not risen, then repeat that process.

As mentioned before, I am a type1 diabetic and I enjoy exercising and exerting energy. I have experienced too many dangerous low blood sugars during workouts or hiking, that I now carry glucose gels with me. You can find them in most stores that have a pharmacy or in a vitamin store. They are easy to carry around in your pocket and I find them to be great at preventing low blood sugars from becoming life-threatening.

In circumstances where a person cannot treat him/herself due to being unconscious from hypoglycemia, a glucagon shot should be administered. However, this means that you need to know where that person keeps their glucagon shot, assuming it is with them or that they even have one. 911 should be called as the first step of action if this occurs. If the person does not have a glucagon shot, then you could place icing, syrup, or honey around the inside of the person’s cheek. This is not the best option but could prove to be helpful if it is the only option. When doing this though, make sure the airway is not blocked and that the person will not choke.

Hypoglycemia Unawareness

Hypoglycemia unawareness is defined as a complication in diabetes where the patient is unaware of a drop in blood sugar. Because of the patient’s inability to sense the low blood sugar, epinephrine is not secreted by the adrenal glands. Epinephrine is one of the main hormones that aides in raising blood sugar.

Low blood sugar should typically trigger a “fight or flight response”. However, the diabetic will not have a response if the low blood sugar is not felt. This results in untreated low blood sugar which could lead to unconsciousness or seizures.

Hypoglycemia unawareness could be caused by a variety of things from alcohol consumption to strenuous exercise to certain prescription drugs. Another cause could be if a diabetic allows their blood sugar to run low often. The symptoms of low blood sugar may appear to feel normal to them, so their body won’t respond with epinephrine. Therefore, it is important for diabetics to check their blood sugar often.

Conclusion

As we’ve made it evident, blood sugar is a crucial part of your body’s health. Low blood sugars can affect more than just one type of person and there are many causes of low blood sugar. If you are curious as to what your average blood sugar has been, then talk to your doctor about having an A1C done. This will give you an average reading of your blood sugar covering about 3 months. Now that we have explained what can cause low blood sugar, you will be more prepared should the situation arise.

If you are having difficulty affording your insulin, glucagon shot, or other prescription medications, then Prescription Hope may be able to help. Enroll with us and pay $50 a month for each of your prescription medications.

What makes your blood sugar drop?

Low blood sugar occurs mostly in those that have diabetes and are insulin-dependent. Injecting too much insulin, not eating or eating less than normal, and physical exertion can cause blood sugar to drop in diabetes patients.

What is it called when you have low blood sugar?

Low blood sugar is often referred to as hypoglycemia.

What does it feel like to have low blood sugar?

The feeling of low blood sugar will vary depending on the severity and how one's body reacts. Typically, low blood sugar will make you feel hungry, nauseous, and irritable. You may feel your heart beat faster, causing a feeling of nervousness and shakiness. Tingling of the lips or tongue can occur, along with excessive sweating, lightheadedness, and confusion.



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