Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
What is (unspecified) Hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia describes a low blood sugar level (hypo means low, and glycemia refers to sugar or glucose in the blood). Sugar is an important source of energy for the body. Symptoms of low blood sugar levels include headache, nervousness, shaking, concentration difficulties, sweating and nausea. The treatment of hypoglycemia is to give sugar, wether in food or drinks or, in severe cases, in fluid directly into the blood. Most people recover well, but severe hypoglycemia can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment.
Sugar is an important source of energy for the body, and the most important fuel for the brain. The body can partially compensate for low blood sugar levels, but eventually needs food in order to produce sugar quickly. Hypoglycemia can occur in anyone, though some people are more likely to have hypoglycemic episodes than others. People with diabetes who take medications to control their blood sugar levels, people who do not eat regularly and athletes may all be at risk of having a hypoglycemic episode, as are people with medical conditions which affect their liver and pancreas. In rare instances, a cancer that produces excess insulin can cause recurrent hypoglycemic episodes.
The typical symptoms of hypoglycemia are headache, dizziness, impaired concentration, nervousness, irritability and uncoordinated movements. People with hypoglycemia may begin to sweat, shake and feel nauseous. They may also feel hungry. If severe hypoglycemia develops, the brain may not be able to work properly. Symptoms of severe hypoglycemia are sleepiness or coma, muscle weakness, seizures, slowed breathing and collapse.
Diagnosis is based on the symptoms and a measurement of the blood sugar level. Treatment must not be delayed by further diagnostic tests to find the underlying reason.
The treatment of an episode of hypoglycemia is to give sugar. If the affected person is fully awake, drinking sweet drinks or eating sweets may be sufficient as therapy. Drowsy or unconscious people may need glucose solutions given intravenously, or alternatively, a glucagon injection (a hormone released by the pancreas and functions to increase glucose levels in blood by causing the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose).
People who take medications to reduce blood sugar levels should learn to recognize and treat hypoglycemia. Eating regularly can help prevent episodes of hypoglycemia.
Other names for hypoglycemia
- low blood sugar
- hypoglycemia, unspecified