What is non-diabetic hypoglycemia?
Non-diabetic hypoglycemia is a condition in which the sugar (glucose) in your blood drops too low. When your blood sugar is low, your muscles and brain cells do not have enough energy to work well. This type of low blood sugar happens in people who do not have diabetes. There are two types of non-diabetic hypoglycemia, which are called fasting hypoglycemia and reactive hypoglycemia. Fasting hypoglycemia often happens after going without food for eight hours or longer. Reactive hypoglycemia usually happens about 2 to 4 hours after a meal.
What are the causes of non-diabetic hypoglycemia?
Following are some of the possible causes of hypoglycemia.
- Fasting hypoglycemia:
- Certain medicines.
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol. Alcohol is found in beer, wine, or hard liquor.
- Low levels of certain hormones.
- Liver disease, kidney disease, or other serious illness.
- The body makes too much insulin (hormone that moves glucose out of the blood stream and into cells to be used for energy). This condition is called hyperinsulinism.
- Certain types of tumors (growths).
- Disorders which affect the way your body uses glucose.
- The body over-reacts to the action of insulin, causing the blood sugar to drop too much.
- Certain medicines.
- Reactive hypoglycemia: The causes of reactive hypoglycemia are not always clear. Some people who have had stomach surgery may have problems with low blood sugar after the surgery. Disorders which affect the way the body uses glucose may also cause reactive hypoglycemia. Sometimes, the cause of reactive hypoglycemia is not known.
What are the signs and symptoms of non-diabetic hypoglycemia?
You may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia.
- Blurred vision, dizzy, light-headed, shaky, or weak.
- Drowsy or tired.
- Fast or pounding heartbeat, or sweating more than usual.
- Nausea (upset stomach) or feeling very hungry.
- Irritable, nervous, or confused.
- If your sugar is very low, you may faint or have seizures.
How is non-diabetic hypoglycemia diagnosed?
Caregivers will do tests to see if your blood sugar drops and they will look for symptoms. If you have low blood sugar with symptoms, caregivers will give you glucose to raise your blood sugar. If your symptoms go away when your blood sugar rises, you probably have hypoglycemia. Some tests that caregivers may do include the following:
- 72-hour fast: You will not be given food for a period of up to 72 hours. During this time, caregivers will check to see if your blood sugar drops to a certain level.
- Mixed meal test: You will be given a meal similar to one that you believe caused your blood sugar to drop before. Caregivers will check to see if your blood sugar drops to a certain level after you eat this meal.
- Blood tests: These tests are done to measure your blood sugar levels. These tests may also be done to find the cause of the hypoglycemia.
How is non-diabetic hypoglycemia treated?
- You will need to eat foods or drinks with carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar to a normal level. Carbohydrates are found in foods such as bread, rice, cereal, fruits, juice, and milk. If you cannot eat or drink, your caregiver will give you glucose through an IV. An IV is a small tube placed in your vein.
- Treatment will depend on the cause of the hypoglycemia. For example, if a medicine you take is causing hypoglycemia, caregivers may change or stop giving you the medicine. If hypoglycemia is caused by low hormone levels, you may need to take hormones. If tumors are causing hypoglycemia, surgery may be needed.
How do I prevent hypoglycemia?
You may need to change what and when you eat to keep from getting low blood sugar. Follow the meal plan that you and the dietitian have planned. The following guidelines may help you keep your blood sugar levels under control.
- Eat 5 to 6 small meals each day instead of three large meals. Eat the same amount of carbohydrate at meals and snacks each day. Most people need about 3 to 4 servings of carbohydrate at meals and 1 to 2 servings for snacks. Using carbohydrate counting to plan your meals may be helpful. Ask your caregiver or dietitian for information on using carbohydrate counting to plan your meals.
- Avoid skipping meals.
- Avoid eating foods that are high in sugar. These foods include regular sodas, syrups, candy, pies, and cakes.
- Avoid drinks and foods that have a lot of caffeine in them. Some of these foods include coffee, tea, and certain types of sodas. Caffeine may cause you to have the same symptoms as hypoglycemia, and may cause you to feel worse.
- Avoid drinks that contain alcohol. If you do choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount. Have only one alcoholic drink each day if you are a woman and two drinks if you are a man. Do not drink alcohol without also eating something, because this may cause hypoglycemia. Eat food that contains carbohydrate before or with the alcoholic drink.
- Include protein foods and vegetables in your meals. Foods with protein include meat, fish, poultry (chicken and turkey), beans, and nuts. Eat a variety of vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, potatoes, and corn.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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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.