Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

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Contents of this page:


Food and insulin release
Food and insulin release

Alternative Names    Return to top

Insulin shock; Low blood sugar

Definition    Return to top

Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too low.

Causes    Return to top

Hypoglycemia occurs when:

Insulin is a hormone that reduces blood glucose. It is produced by the pancreas in response to increased glucose levels in the blood.

Hypoglycemia is relatively common in persons with diabetes. It occurs when:

Relative hypoglycemia is a fairly common condition in which a newborn's blood glucose is low. Babies born to mothers with diabetes may have severe hypoglycemia.

Severe hypoglycemia that results in unconsciousness is also called insulin shock.

Idiopathic hypoglycemia is hypoglycemia that occurs without a known cause. People with this type of hypoglycemia do not have diabetes.

Hypoglycemia may also be caused by:

The condition affects approximately 1 out of every 1,000 people.

Symptoms    Return to top

Other symptoms that may be associated with this disease:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Home monitoring of blood glucose levels will show readings lower than 50 mg/dL.

Serum glucose test will be low.

Treatment    Return to top

A snack or drink containing sugar will raise the blood glucose level. You should see an immediate improvement in symptoms.

Infants that are born with hypoglycemia are given glucose through a vein until the body begins to control its own blood sugar level.

Persons with severe hypoglycemia are treated with glucose injections or the hormone glucagon. Immediate treatment is needed to prevent serious complications or death.

Your doctor may tell you to change your diet so that you get more even amounts of glucose into your body throughout the day. This may prevent further episodes of low blood sugar. You may be told to eat small, frequent meals with complex carbohydrates, fiber, and fat and to avoid simple sugars, alcohol, and fruit juice.

You should also eat meals at regular intervals, and balance extra exercise with extra food.

If hypoglycemia is caused by an insulinoma (insulin-secreting tumor), surgery to remove the tumor is the best treatment.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Untreated, hypoglycemia can lead to loss of consciousness and coma. Severe hypoglycemia is a medical emergency that may result in seizures and permanent damage to the baby's nervous system if not treated.

Learn to recognize the early warning signs of hypoglycemia and treat yourself quickly and appropriately.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Go to the emergency room immediately or call a local emergency number (such as 911) if early signs of hypoglycemia do not improve after you've eaten a snack containing sugar.

Get immediate medical help if a person with diabetes or a history of hypoglycemia loses alertness or if you can't wake them up.

Prevention    Return to top

If you have diabetes, make sure you follow your doctor's advice regarding diet, medications, and exercise.

If you have a history of hypoglycemia, you should keep a snack or drink containing sugar available at all times to take as soon as symptoms appear. If symptoms do not improve in 15 minutes, eat more food. A glucagon kit is available for those who have episodes of hypoglycemia that don't respond well to other types of treatment.

References    Return to top

Cryer PE, Davis SN, Shamoon H. Hypoglycemia in diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003; 26(6): 1902-1912.

Cryer PE. Glucose Homeostasis and Hypoglycemia. In: Kronenberg HM, Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR. Kronenberg: Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 33.

Update Date: 6/17/2008

Updated by: Elizabeth H. Holt, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Yale University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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