Glucose is a simple carbohydrate on which the cells, brain, tissues, and muscles of the body depend. It is important to provide energy for your daily activities. It is necessary to have normal levels of glucose as excessively high or low levels can cause problems. Having low blood sugar levels is called hypoglycemia. Let us understand the symptoms of hypoglycemic attack and time taken to recover from it.
The main function of glucose molecules is to produce energy. It is also converted into glycogen and stored for future use. The stored form is used up when there are emergency situations like hunger, fatigue, illness, exercising, hard-working, etc. The blood sugar level, in a healthy person, is maintained by two hormones called insulin and glucagon. Insulin helps to take up the glucose by the cells from the blood whereas glucagon helps for the conversion of glycogen to glucose when it is required. This mechanism, if altered due to different reasons, leads to disorders. For any reason, if the blood sugar level goes below the normal range, it is referred to as hypoglycemia.
This condition can be classified into two types depending on whether it is found in non-diabetic people or diabetic patients. Non-diabetic hypoglycemia can be further classified into reactive and fasting hypoglycemia. Reactive hypoglycemia occurs after having food whereas fasting type mostly occurs when the person is on some other medication or when suffering from a serious illness. Hypoglycemia in diabetic patients happens when the blood sugar level suddenly drops.
Symptoms of Hypoglycemic Attack
The symptoms of hypoglycemia may vary based on the type of hypoglycemia.
Symptoms of Non-diabetic Hypoglycemia include:
- Difficulty in speaking
- Loss of consciousness
- Crying while sleeping
- Increased heartbeat
Symptoms of Diabetic Hypoglycemia Include:
Struggling to remember the things which would not have happened in normal condition
- Disturbed vision
Causes of Hypoglycemia
The causes of hypoglycemia are different for the two types and hence should be studied separately. Hypoglycemia is common in diabetics, particularly those undergoing treatment with medicines to reduce blood sugar levels or insulin. Hypoglycemia in people who do not have diabetes can arise from critical illnesses, hormone deficiencies, non-islet cell tumors or due to intake of certain medications or alcohol.1
Some of the causes of hypoglycemia based on the types include the following:
Causes for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia: Though the reasons for the two types of non-diabetic hypoglycemia are different, a very well known cause is the increase in insulin levels in the blood, which in turn results in more uptake of glucose from the blood.
Some other important causes for reactive hypoglycemia are given here:
In patients who have undergone stomach surgery, the food is passed into intestine without being digested in the stomach, which fails to trigger the production of insulin. In case if the person is at the risk of diabetes, otherwise known as pre-diabetic, the required quantity of insulin is not produced.
In very few cases, the food is not completely digested due to deficiency of some enzymes in the digestive juices.
Here Are The Reasons For Fasting Hypoglycemia:
- It can occur in people with serious diseases related to heart, kidneys and/or liver.
- In people who consume alcohol beyond a certain limit.
- Abnormalities like the growth of tumors in the part of pancreas where insulin is usually produced.
- In people who take medicines like sulfa drugs, drugs given for severe pneumonia (ex: pentamidine), drugs prescribed for malaria (ex: quinine).
Causes for Diabetic Hypoglycemia: Diabetic patients already have the variation in insulin production. More amount of glucose in blood gives rise to hyperglycemia. Insulin is given to such patients to lower the concentration of glucose. In this process, sometimes, it may happen that the glucose level drops lower than the normal range causing hypoglycemia. It may also be caused due to overmedication of diabetic related drugs in the form of tablets or injection. Working out too much or excessive physical work or intake of food less than usual quantity may also be the cause for this condition.
Diagnosis of Hypoglycemia
Diagnosis of hypoglycemia depends upon its signs and symptoms.
Diagnosis of Non-diabetic Hypoglycemia:
This condition is confirmed by performing blood tests. The cause of hypoglycemia can also be found out from this test.
OGT test is performed to detect hypoglycemia. The sugar level is checked for the first time after 8 hours of fasting. This is usually done in the morning as soon as the patient wakes up. The patient is given a sweet (usually glucose) drink. Again blood test is done twice, ones after one hour and another time after 2 hours.
There is one more test, which is done after fasting for 8 hours or overnight. Sometimes the patient is made to stay without food for 72 hours. During this period, health professionals monitor the blood sugar level and observe if there is any considerable variation.
Diagnosis of Diabetic Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia may be an indication of diabetes usually seen in pre-diabetic people. It can be diagnosed by blood tests and urine analysis and comparing the result with the standard values.
Hypoglycemic Attack Recovery Time
Now that you are aware of the symptoms of a hypoglycemic attack, it is worth knowing how long will it take to recover from it.
Human brain mainly depends upon glucose. Hence, hypoglycemia can lead to fluctuation of brain functions. Permanent damage to the brain is very rare. Brain gets back to normal functioning after a little time (less than 5 minutes) of experiencing a hypoglycemic attack. Some studies have shown that recovery from acute cognitive decrement after severe hypoglycemia would be complete by 1.5 days.2 Treating the condition as soon as possible is of utmost importance. In the case of diabetic hypoglycemia, failure in treating in time may lead to diabetic coma.
Treatment of Hypoglycemia
While the main aim is to maintain normal blood sugar levels, the precise treatment of hypoglycemia depends on the type and the severity of the condition.
Non-diabetic Hypoglycemia Treatment: Hypoglycemia in non-diabetic patients is treated in the following ways:
- Glucose is given intravenously by inserting a very small pipe in the vein if the patient is unable to drink or eat anything.
- If hypoglycemia has occurred as a side effect of any medication, the doctors may change the medicine or give any substitute if it is necessary.
- Sometimes glucagon is also given, which raises the glucose level if the condition is due to insufficiency of that hormone.
As emergency management, the patients are asked to carry foods containing glucose like crystalline sugar, fruits, juices, milk, bread, cereals particularly rice, etc. If they experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, they can consume these foods to maintain blood sugar levels.
Treatment for Diabetic Hypoglycemia: Treatment involves two stages. One is the immediate care and the other one is a long term treatment.
Immediate Care for Diabetic Hypoglycemia: The main intention of this treatment is to normalize the blood sugar level at the earliest, depending on the severity of the condition. Eating sugar candy, sugar crystals as such, fruits, drinking fruit juice are some of the ways. IV is given for those who are not in a position to have the food by mouth. They are taken to the hospital immediately for medical support.
Long-term Treatment for Diabetic Hypoglycemia: The doctors find out the root cause for hypoglycemia. In case if they feel it is connected with diabetes, the dosage of medicines given for diabetes would be altered. In some cases, advice by physicians and dieticians is enough. They chart out a new diet plan to manage the condition. The patients are advised to consult the experts if hypoglycemia is not related to diabetes but possibly due to some other illness like a tumor.
Complications of Hypoglycemia
In both the types, the complications that occur due to negligence are serious. Hypoglycemia if ignored or left untreated may lead to seizures, unconsciousness ultimately death.
Prevention of Hypoglycemia
Preventive Measures for Non-diabetic Patients: Some measures can be taken to prevent hypoglycemia in non-diabetic patients. They include
- Having a healthy balanced diet, which is rich in protein and vegetables. Instead of having some kind of vegetables, it is better to choose different types of vegetables for each serving.
- Avoiding coffee or caffeinated drinks as they can worsen the condition.
- Consuming complex carbs instead of refined or processed carbs.
- Avoiding skipping of meals particularly in the morning. Have small frequent meals in place of large meals taken 2 or 3 times a day.
- Refraining from alcohol as it increases the risk of hypoglycemia.
Preventive Measures for Diabetic Patients: In diabetics, hypoglycemia can be easily prevented since the reason is known. Keeping sweet foods handy and having them appropriately can help.
Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar level, which can happen to any person of any age group. Knowing the symptoms of a hypoglycemic attack helps you deal with the situation better. There are ways to prevent hypoglycemia and having a healthy diet is the most important one.