The body’s primary source of energy comes from glucose, which we mainly consume as carbohydrates. Hypoglycaemia, also known as low blood sugar or low blood glucose, is a condition characterised by a significant drop in your blood sugar level.
It is normal for your blood sugar level to rise and fall throughout the day, depending on several factors. However, when it falls below a healthy range of 4 – 5.9 mmol/L, typically if you haven’t eaten in a while, you may experience adverse symptoms. .
It is not uncommon for people with diabetes to encounter episodes of hypoglycaemia as a side effect of insulin or other types of diabetes medication. Newly diagnosed diabetics will most likely experience mild to moderate symptoms as their body adjusts to treatment.
Although most commonly found in people with diabetes, it is also possible for people who don't have diabetes to experience symptoms of hypoglycaemia. Especially in those who have not eaten for a few hours.
Symptoms of Hypoglycaemia
The symptoms of hypoglycaemia range from mild to severe, depending on how low your blood glucose level gets. At 3,9 mmol/L, you may feel mild symptoms of hypoglycaemia, but this may get more severe the lower it goes. Severe hypoglycaemia typically occurs in people with blood sugar less than 3 mmol/L.
People with mild hypoglycaemia may experience the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Insatiable hunger
- Severe headaches and sweating
- Skin appearing pale or feeling cold/clamminess
- Confusion or disorientation
- Feeling weak, sleepy, or tired
- Trouble concentrating
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Rapid or irregular heart rate
People with severe hypoglycaemia may experience the following symptoms:
- Mood swings or changes in personality
- Body tremors or trembling
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort
- Becoming cranky, argumentative, or combative
- Numbness of the tongue, lips, or cheek
- Seizures or convulsions
- Loss of consciousness or coma
Check your blood sugar levels if you experience any of the above symptoms, even if you don’t have diabetes. You can also consume quick-release glucose supplements to boost your sugar levels if you feel these symptoms between meals. If your symptoms are severe or persistent please call 111 or speak to a Doctor.
Testing for Hypoglycaemia?
The best way to ascertain if you have hypoglycaemia is to check your blood sugar level using a blood glucose meter (called a glucometer). However, there are common treatments you can use to boost your glucose level even if you are unable to check your blood sugar level.
If you’re diabetic
Most people with diabetes will already have a blood glucose meter available, but you can easily get one if you don’t have one already. This handy (often portable) device will allow you to check your blood sugar level anytime, anywhere.
Using a blood glucose meter
Although blood glucose meters come in many shapes and sizes, they all come with a testing device and a pack of disposable test strips. Their method of operation remains fairly similar.
- Wash your hands under running water.
- Slot a test strip into your glucometer.
- Carefully prick the side of a fingertip to get a drop of blood using a finger pricker.
- Touch the drop of blood on the edge of the test strip.
- The glucometer will show your blood sugar level.
If you don't have diabetes (non-diabetic)
If you are experiencing symptoms of hypoglycaemia without a history of diabetes, you should contact your doctor or call 111 immediately. This could be a side-effect of an underlying problem and your doctor will carry out a comprehensive examination to find out the root cause.
A blood test will also be carried out to check your blood sugar level. You should take note of the factors that trigger your hypoglycaemic episodes as you may need to develop these symptoms during a medical exam.
Some people may experience symptoms of hypoglycaemia when they have not eaten for a few hours, are severely ill, or have a hormone deficiency. Taking diabetes medication when you are a non-diabetic can also cause significant changes to your body’s glucose levels.
The above symptoms are not exclusive to hypoglycaemia. It is possible to experience symptoms even when your blood sugar levels are normal. There are several other medical conditions which can result in hypoglycaemic-like episodes. These include:
- A side effect of certain medication
- Mental health disorder like clinical depression
- A metabolic disorder like glucose metabolism disorders
- A form of cardiac disease
Depending on your family and medical history, your doctor may need to carry out additional testing to uncover the root of your symptoms.
Since hypoglycaemia occurs as your blood sugar levels drop, you can treat it right away with fast-acting carbohydrates such as glucose supplements, a lump of sugar, some confectionery or a glass of fruit juice.
The 15-minute rule
A recommended treatment for hypoglycaemia is to raise your blood sugar level by consuming 15 grams of carbohydrates and check the results after 15 minutes. Continue the process until your blood sugar level rises above 3.9 mmol/L. To prevent a relapse, you should follow this with a balanced meal as soon as possible.