Although commonly diagnosed in people with diabetes, it is not uncommon for people who do not have diabetes to experience low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
What is Hypoglycaemia?
Also known as low blood sugar, hypoglycaemia is a medical condition caused when the level of glucose in the blood is dangerously low. Most people begin to experience symptoms when their blood sugar level drops below 4.0 mmol/L.
Severe hypoglycaemia can be life threatening if left untreated. The most common treatments focus on increasing blood sugar levels. When you eat food, your body breaks the carbohydrates down into glucose which it uses and a primary source of energy.
The presence of glucose triggers your pancreas to secrete insulin which helps the cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream.
Without glucose, the body doesn’t have enough energy to function properly, leading to low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). Not eating enough carbohydrates or high intensity exercise can cause blood sugar levels to drop for all of us (even those non-diabetic).
Symptoms of Hypoglycaemia
You may experience an onset of hypoglycaemia when your blood sugar level drops below 4.0 mmol/L. Confusion, rapid heart rate, shakiness, and anxiety are common symptoms to look out for at this point. You may also be experiencing the effects of low blood sugar if you notice any of the following:
- Blurred vision
- Headaches and sweating
- Pale, cold, or clammy skin
- Feeling weak, sleepy, or tired
- Trouble concentrating
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Rapid or irregular heart rate
Treatment should be administered quickly to increase blood sugar to acceptable levels.
People with blood sugar levels below 3.0 mmol/L may experience severe hypoglycaemia, which can be life-threatening.
Treating Hypoglycaemia in non-diabetics
The fastest way to boost your glucose levels is by consuming something sweet. Sweets, fruit juice, and chocolate bars are all effective foods for this purpose. People who experience low blood sugar often should keep a supply of fast acting glucose tablets. These are easily ingested and can bring relief quicker than other foods.
What causes Hypoglycaemia in people without diabetes?
You may feel mild to moderate symptoms of hypoglycaemia if you haven’t eaten for a few hours.
This can also happen if as a result from using any medication that lowers blood glucose or as a side-effect of another condition or illness.
You should call 111 or contact a doctor immediately if you regularly experience symptoms of hypoglycaemia. Your doctor will carry out a comprehensive examination including a blood test to find out why your blood sugar levels have dropped.
Some common causes of hypoglycaemia include:
Not eating enough carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the body’s biggest source of glucose. Failure to eat enough carbohydrates can lead to a drop in your blood sugar level.
Consuming a lot of alcohol
Alcohol effects blood sugar levels by slowing down the liver’s ability to release much-needed glucose into the bloodstream. This is made worse by failing to eat before or after drinking.
Taking diabetes medication when you are a non-diabetic can cause significant changes to your body’s glucose levels. You should never consume any medication that is not intended for you. Hypoglycaemia can also be a side effect of several antibiotics, pneumonia, and malaria medications.
Pre-existing medical conditions
Certain conditions and their treatment may also affect blood sugar levels. Other illnesses can make it difficult to eat or process your food efficiently. People with kidney failure also have an increased risk of hypoglycaemia as a result of their medication. Problems with the pancreas, such as a tumour, can cause an overproduction of insulin.
Irregular eating and dieting can prevent the body from producing sufficient glucose leading to hypoglycaemia. People with eating disorders like anorexia may fail to consume enough food for their body’s needs.
Damage to the adrenal or pituitary gland
It is possible to experience hypoglycaemia as a side effect of damage to the adrenal, or pituitary gland. These parts of the body play a significant role in the production of glucose and may cause low blood sugar if damaged in any way.
The renal system is responsible for eliminating waste from the body. If it isn’t functioning correctly, any ongoing medication can build up in the blood stream and effect blood sugar levels, leading to hypoglycaemia.