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Low blood sugar

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Low blood sugar is known medically as hypoglycemia and commonly referred to as “a hypo.” This is when the glucose level 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 less than 100 mg/dL before a meal. You have hypoglycemia if your blood glucose goes below 70 mg/dL. The lower it goes and the longer it goes, the higher risk. If you are diagnosed as diabetic and either taking insulin or at risk of hypo's, 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.

What causes low blood sugar?

Diabetic people can get low sugar levels from taking too much diabetic medication (such as insulin or sulfonylureas), missing meals, not eating enough carbohydrates, exercising too much, or drinking alcohol.

It’s important to be aware of this when you’re unwell. You may continue your diabetic medication as usual but have a poor appetite or 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 take 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 drinking too much alcohol.

What are low blood sugar symptoms?

Low blood sugar levels can lead to shakiness, a fast heartbeat, sweating, hunger, irritability, tiredness, numbness, or tingling around the mouth.

If hypoglycemia is left untreated, it can cause confusion, visual disturbance, loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death. If you get any of these symptoms, you must call an ambulance immediately.

How can I prevent low blood sugar?

If you are diabetic, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of low blood sugar.

You should have a blood glucose machine at home to check your levels regularly and ensure you follow your diabetes management plan set out by the doctor or the diabetic clinic.

Always keep a sugary snack or drink with you, and avoid excessive drinking or exercising without careful meal planning.

If you are on any new medication, you must 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.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are diabetic and you keep getting low blood sugar, you need to check with the doctor that you are taking the right medication or insulin dose.

If you are not diagnosed as diabetic and constantly getting hypoglycemia, you should speak to your doctor to get a blood test done and to get further assessments.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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