Hypoglycemia In Infancy

What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is a condition that happens when the glucose (sugar) in your infant's blood drops too low. When your infant's blood sugar drops too low, his brain cells and muscles do not have enough energy to work. Glucose is important to help an infant's brain grow normally. Hypoglycemia may be temporary (short-term) or continuous (ongoing).

What increases an infant's risk of having short-term hypoglycemia?

  • Infant is born earlier than expected (before 37 weeks of pregnancy).

  • Low birth weight and length.

  • Infant's body makes too much insulin. Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose out of the blood stream and into cells to be used for energy. This condition is called hyperinsulinism. Infants born to a mother who has diabetes, or had toxemia while she was pregnant are at risk for this condition. Toxemia is a condition where a woman has high blood pressure, and protein in her urine.

What causes ongoing hypoglycemia in infants?

  • Hyperinsulinism that is caused by a genetic disorder. A genetic disorder is one that an infant is born with and may have been passed from his family.

  • Low levels of certain hormones.

  • Problems with the way your infant's body uses glucose.

  • Ketotic hypoglycemia. This is a condition in which the body changes fats into glucose for energy. This process produces ketones. Ketones are chemicals that can make an infant sick.

  • Poisoning with certain types of drugs such as alcohol, diabetes pills, or insulin.

  • Other medical conditions.

What are the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia in infants?

Signs and symptoms may be mild and not easily seen. Newborns may not have any symptoms at all. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Breathing stops for short periods of time.

  • Blue or purple skin color.

  • Low body temperature.

  • Not eating well.

  • Seizures.

  • Sluggish or drowsy.

How is hypoglycemia during infancy diagnosed?

  • Health history: Caregivers will ask you questions about your infant's symptoms and family health history. They may ask you about the amount of time between your infant's last meal and the start of his symptoms. They may also ask you if any other children in your family have a history of hypoglycemia.

  • Fasting test: Caregivers watch your infant closely during a period of time in which your infant does not eat. This test is done to cause hypoglycemia to occur. When hypoglycemia occurs, caregivers will do tests to find out what is causing it.

  • Blood and urine tests: Testing your infant's blood and urine my help caregivers find the cause of his hypoglycemia.

  • Other tests: Caregivers will examine your baby closely. Pictures of your infant's brain may be taken using a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A liver biopsy may also be done. A liver biopsy is a procedure in which a small amount of tissue is taken from the liver and sent to a lab for tests.

How is hypoglycemia in infants treated?

The treatment that your infant will receive depends on the cause of the hypoglycemia. Feeding infants often may help to increase their glucose level. However, some infants may also need to be given glucose through an IV at a hospital. An IV is a tiny tube placed in your infant's vein for giving medicine or liquids. Some infants may also need to be fed a special diet. Infants with continuous hypoglycemia may need medicine to manage the hypoglycemia. If medicine does not work, a small or large part of the pancreas may need to be removed. The pancreas is the organ in the body that produces insulin.


If your infant keeps having hypoglycemia, and does not get treatment for it, his brain may not grow and develop as it should. Hypoglycemia that occurs over a long period of time can lead to mental retardation, seizures, or both. The medicines that are used to manage your infant's hypoglycemia may cause certain side effects. Some of these side effects include poor growth, pain at the injection site, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. Discuss treatment options with your baby's caregivers to decide what care you want for your baby. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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