Low blood sugar is known medically as hypoglycaemia, and commonly referred to as “a hypo”. This is when the level of glucose in your blood drops below the normal range. It can be a condition in people with diabetes, especially if you take insulin, but it can be related to medication and other medical conditions.
Healthy blood glucose is somewhere in the range of 4 to 7 mmol/l before a meal. You get hypoglycaemia if your blood glucose goes below 4mmol/l. It's the higher risk the lower it goes, and the longer it goes on. If you are diagnosed as diabetic and either taking insulin or at risk of hypo's, either your doctor will provide you with a blood glucose monitor machine or sensor patch or you can buy one, to keep an eye on your levels.
In diabetic people, you can get low sugar levels from taking too much diabetic medication (such as insulin or sulfonylureas), from missing meals, not eating enough carbohydrates, exercising too much or from drinking alcohol.
It’s important to be aware of this when you’re unwell, as you may continue your diabetic medication as usual, but have a poor appetite or be vomiting, which will drive your blood sugar to a low level. Your doctor or diabetic team may have referred to managing this as “sick day rules”, and it’s especially important if you have insulin injections.
Occasionally it can happen in people that do not have diabetes. The causes can be due to medications (such as quinine), chronic illnesses that affect the liver, kidney or heart, malnutrition or anorexia, hormonal deficiencies, complications of pregnancy or from drinking too much alcohol.
Low blood sugar levels can lead to shakiness, fast heartbeat, sweating, hunger, irritability, tiredness, or numbness or tingling around the mouth.
If hypoglycaemia is left untreated it can cause confusion, visual disturbance, loss of consciousness, seizures and even death. If you get any of these symptoms you need to call an ambulance straight away.
If you are diabetic, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of low blood sugar.
You should have a blood sugar machine at home to check your levels regularly and ensure you follow your diabetes management plan that has been set out by the doctor or the diabetic clinic.
Keep a sugary snack or drink with you at all times, and avoid excessive drinking or exercising without careful meal planning.
If you are on any new medication, you will need to know how to adjust your meals and exercise routines accordingly.
If you do not have diabetes and you keep getting symptoms of low blood sugar, you should contact your doctor for further investigation.
If you are diabetic and you keep on getting low blood sugar, you need to check with the doctor that you are taking the right dose of medication or insulin.
If you are not diagnosed as diabetic and you are constantly getting hypoglycaemia, you should speak to your doctor to get a blood test done and to get further assessments.
If you drive, it is important to inform the DVLA of your condition. You may still be able to drive, but they’ll need to understand your risks.
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