What is low blood pressure?
Low blood pressure means that your blood pressure is lower than normal. Another name for low blood pressure is hypotension (say "hy-poh-TEN-shun").
In most healthy adults, low blood pressure does not cause problems or symptoms. In fact, it may be normal for you. For example, people who exercise regularly often have lower blood pressure than people who are not as fit.
But if your blood pressure drops suddenly or causes symptoms like dizziness or fainting, it is too low. It can cause shock. Shock can be dangerous if it is not treated right away.
Blood pressure is a measure of how hard the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries as it moves through your body. Blood pressure consists of two numbers: systolic and diastolic.
- The systolic (higher) number shows how hard the blood pushes when the heart is pumping.
- The diastolic (lower) number shows how hard the blood pushes between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood.
Someone with a systolic pressure of and a diastolic pressure of 80 has a blood pressure of /80, or " over " Normal blood pressure is lower than /
Low blood pressure does not have a specific number where it is too low. Most doctors consider blood pressure to be too low when it causes symptoms or drops suddenly. In general, low blood pressure symptoms happen when blood pressure is less than 90/
What causes low blood pressure?
Some of the causes of low blood pressure include:
- Getting up after you sit or lie down. This can cause a quick drop in blood pressure called orthostatic hypotension.
- Standing for a long time.
- Not drinking enough fluids (dehydration).
- Medicines, such as high blood pressure medicine or other heart medicines.
- Health problems such as thyroid disease, severe infection, bleeding in the intestines, or heart problems.
- Trauma, such as major bleeding or severe burns.
What are the symptoms?
Many people with low blood pressure don't have any symptoms.
Symptoms to watch for include:
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint.
- Feeling sick to your stomach or vomiting.
- Feeling more thirsty than usual.
- Having blurry vision.
- Feeling weak.
- Being confused.
- Being tired.
- Having cold, clammy skin.
- Breathing very fast.
If you have symptoms of low blood pressure, especially dizziness or fainting, call your doctor.
Watch for symptoms of low blood pressure. Tell your doctor when the symptoms happen so he or she can treat them.
How is low blood pressure diagnosed?
Often people learn that they have low blood pressure when their doctor checks it. Or you may find that you have low blood pressure when you check it at home.
To check for the causes of your low blood pressure, your doctor will ask about your past health, your symptoms, and the medicines you take. He or she will do a physical examination and may do other tests. Your doctor may check for another health problem that could be causing your low blood pressure.
Will your doctor treat low blood pressure?
You will likely get treated for low blood pressure only if it is causing symptoms or if your blood pressure drops suddenly. Treatment depends on your symptoms, how severe they are, and the reasons for the low blood pressure.
Your doctor may have you:
- Add more salt to your diet.
- Get fluid through an intravenous (IV) line if you are very dehydrated.
- Change or stop medicines that lower your blood pressure.
- Take medicine to treat the problem that is causing low blood pressure. For example, you may need antibiotics to treat infection or medicines to stop vomiting or diarrhea.
Be sure to talk with your doctor before you add more salt to your diet or make any changes in your medicines.
How can you prevent low blood pressure symptoms?
If you have orthostatic hypotension, your doctor may suggest that you try some simple ways to prevent symptoms like dizziness. For example, you can:
- Stand up slowly.
- Drink more water.
- Drink little or no alcohol.
- Limit or avoid caffeine.
- Wear compression stockings.
If you feel dizzy or light-headed, sit down or lie down for a few minutes. Or you can sit down and put your head between your knees. This will help your blood pressure go back to normal and help your symptoms go away.
Current as of: December 16,
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian O'Brien, MD, FRCPC - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Rakesh K. Pai, MD - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Ethan A. Halm, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine
Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in People Without Diabetes
Is this topic for you?
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is most common in people who have diabetes. If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes and need more information about low blood sugar, see the topics:
What is low blood sugar?
You may have briefly felt the effects of low blood sugar when you've gotten really hungry or exercised hard without eating enough. This happens to nearly everyone from time to time. It's easy to correct and usually nothing to worry about.
But low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can also be an ongoing problem. It occurs when the level of sugar in your blood drops too low to give your body energy.
What causes hypoglycemia in people who don't have diabetes?
Ongoing problems with low blood sugar can be caused by:
- Diseases of the liver, kidneys, or pancreas.
- Metabolic problems.
- Alcohol use.
- Stomach surgery.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can be different depending on how low your blood sugar level drops.
- Mild hypoglycemia can make you feel hungry or like you want to vomit. You could also feel jittery or nervous. Your heart may beat fast. You may sweat. Or your skin might turn cold and clammy.
- Moderate hypoglycemia often makes people feel short-tempered, nervous, afraid, or confused. Your vision may blur. You could also feel unsteady or have trouble walking.
- Severe hypoglycemia can cause you to pass out. You could have seizures. It could even cause a coma or death.
If you've had hypoglycemia during the night, you may wake up tired or with a headache. And you may have nightmares. Or you may sweat so much during the night that your pajamas or sheets are damp when you wake up.
How is hypoglycemia diagnosed?
To diagnose hypoglycemia, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your health and any medicines you take. You will need blood tests to check your blood sugar levels. Some tests might include not eating (fasting) and watching for symptoms. Other tests might involve eating a meal that could cause symptoms of low blood sugar several hours later. The results of these types of tests can help diagnose the cause.
You may also need tests to look for or rule out health problems that could be affecting your blood sugar levels.
How is it treated?
You can treat a sudden episode of low blood sugar by eating or drinking something with sugar in it. Some examples of "quick-sugar foods" are fruit juice, soda, milk, raisins, and hard candy. You may also take glucose tablets. This is usually all that's needed to get your blood sugar level back up in the short term.
If your hypoglycemia is caused by a health condition, you may need treatment for that condition. There also may be steps you can take to avoid low blood sugar. For example, talk to your doctor about whether changes in your diet, medicines, or exercise habits might help.
What should you do in an emergency?
If mild or moderate hypoglycemia isn't treated right away, it can turn into severe hypoglycemia. People with severe hypoglycemia usually pass out. If you pass out, someone should call right away.
If you have a health problem that tends to cause low blood sugar, it's a good idea to teach your family, friends, and coworkers about what symptoms to watch for and what to do. You may also want to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.
Other Works Consulted
- Cryer PE (). Hypoglycemia. In S Melmed et al., eds., Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 12th ed., pp. – Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Cryer PE, Davis SN (). Hypoglycemia. In DL Kasper et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th ed., vol. 2, pp. – New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
- Endocrine Society (). Evaluation and management of adult hypoglycemic disorders: An endocrine society clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 94(3): – Available online: http://www.endo-society.org/guidelines/final/upload/FINAL-Standalone-Hypo-Guideline.pdf.
- Masharani U, Gitelman SE (). Hypoglycemic disorders. In DG Gardner, D Shoback, eds., Greenspan's Basic and Clinical Endocrinology, 9th ed., pp. – New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Murray MT (). Hypoglycemia. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. – St. Louis: Elsevier.
Current as of: March 31,
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Matthew I. Kim MD - Endocrinology
Dizziness and fainting in pregnancy
Dizziness is when you feel light-headed, weak, unsteady or as if you might faint.
Many pregnant women feel dizzy at times. It is sometimes the first sign that you are pregnant.
Dizziness is common in weeks 0 to 13 of pregnancy.
When to get medical help
Contact your GP immediately if you feel faint and have any of the following symptoms:
Go to your GP immediately if you have fainted and hurt yourself, especially if you hit your head.
If a pregnant woman has fainted you should:
- Gently put her on the ground and roll her onto her left side, with her left knee pulled up towards her chest.
- Call if she does not wake up after 2 minutes.
- Stay with her until she wakes up or help arrives.
What to do if you feel faint
If you feel faint then you should:
- tell someone - they can support you and get help if needed
- sit down and lower your head towards your legs
- lie down on your side
- remove tight or warm clothing
- get someone to open a window - do not try to move or go outside
- drink some water
- have a snack
Signs you might faint
You might faint if you feel any of the following signs:
- blurred vision or spots in front of your eyes
- ringing sound in your ears
- sweating or feeling cold and clammy
- feeling sick
- fast or unusually deep breathing
If you faint you will usually be unconscious for 20 seconds. It is normal to feel disorientated for a few seconds after you wake. You may feel tired and weak for 30 minutes or more after fainting.
Prevent dizziness and fainting
You can help prevent dizziness and fainting by:
- getting out of bed slowly - sit on the side of the bed for a minute before standing
- avoiding very hot baths or showers
- getting out of the bath or shower slowly and carefully
- avoiding standing for long periods of time
- never skipping meals - even if you have morning sickness, eat small amounts of food often
- drinking plenty of fluids
- doing small amounts of exercise often, to improve your circulation
- avoiding lying on your back, especially from your second trimester onwards
Causes of dizziness and fainting
The main causes of dizziness and fainting during pregnancy are:
- hormone changes - this can cause your blood pressure to drop, allowing less blood to get to your brain
- low blood sugar - keep a snack with you and avoid skipping meals
- low iron levels
- reduced circulation - as your womb grows it will put pressure on the blood vessels in the lower part of your body
- lying on your back
page last reviewed: 26/03/
next review due: 26/03/
Symptoms - Generalised anxiety disorder in adults
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can affect you both physically and mentally.
How severe the symptoms are varies from person to person. Some people have only 1 or 2 symptoms, while others have many more.
You should see a GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or is causing you distress.
Psychological symptoms of GAD
GAD can cause a change in your behaviour and the way you think and feel about things, resulting in symptoms such as:
- a sense of dread
- feeling constantly "on edge"
- difficulty concentrating
Your symptoms may cause you to withdraw from social contact (seeing your family and friends) to avoid feelings of worry and dread.
You may also find going to work difficult and stressful, and may take time off sick. These actions can make you worry even more about yourself and increase your lack of self-esteem.
Physical symptoms of GAD
GAD can also have a number of physical symptoms, including:
If you're anxious because of a specific phobia or because of panic disorder, you'll usually know what the cause is.
For example, if you have claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), you know that being confined in a small space will trigger your anxiety.
But it may not always be clear what you're feeling anxious about. Not knowing what triggers your anxiety can intensify it and you may start to worry that there's no solution.
Sweating shaking dizziness
Profound Fatigue, Cold Sweats, Dizziness May Signal Heart Attack
Feb. 3, -- Pamela Detrow was having lunch in Milwaukee when she suddenly broke into a cold sweat, became dizzy and felt her heart racing. Thinking this would pass quickly, she asked her friends to order her a salad and diet soda, then stepped outside for some fresh air. But within a couple of minutes, the symptoms became so profound that she dragged herself back to the table, unable to lift her arms or raise her head.
Detrow was having a heart attack that November day in , but she didn't know it.
For more on heart health, watch "A Barbara Walters Special: A Matter of Life and Death" tomorrow at 10 p.m. ET on ABC!
As it turns out, neither did the emergency room doctors at a nearby hospital. Upon seeing that she was an avid exerciser with no heart problems, they diagnosed a panic attack and sent her off with anti-anxiety pills and medication to lower her blood pressure, which had increased that day.
"Because I was somebody who did not have a history of heart disease, I believed them, because I didn't know any different," Detrow told ABCNews.com. "I was aware of the heart attack symptoms with the crushing chest pain where you clutch yourself and fall over: the classic male symptoms."
Detrow, 58, is a poster girl for a campaign launched this week to raise women's awareness that atypical symptoms, such as profound fatigue, unfamiliar dizziness, cold sweats and unexplained nausea or vomiting, can signal that part of their heart muscle is dying, and they could die, too.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. An American woman suffers a heart attack every minute. Yet after years of public education programs, the message hasn't penetrated.
When Detrow returned home to Washington, D.C., her internist sent her to a cardiologist, where, three days later, the symptoms returned. She underwent an angiogram that showed she'd had a heart attack but did not have blocked arteries. Doctors prescribed a daily aspirin, the powerful blood pressure drugs valsartan and metoprolol, and a low-salt diet. They told her that after some rest followed by cardiac rehabilitation, "I would be fine, and that's what happened."
Today, the former member of the New York Road Runners Club again enjoys 5K and 10K races. She notes the irony of having a heart attack when when her husband was the one with heart disease.
"My husband has been on blood pressure medications for umpteen years. When everyone heard about my heart attack, they asked 'why you and not him?'"
Make the Call, Don't Miss a Beat
The "Make the Call, Don't Miss a Beat" campaign, unveiled Tuesday by the Department of Health and Human Services and its Office on Women's Health, wants women to learn to recognize signs of a heart attack, especially the signs they're likely to dismiss.
The campaign also emphasizes the importance of dialing if women experience one or more of those signs with an intensity and persistence they've never felt before, delivering its message through print and broadcast public service advertisements, billboards and public transit ads, and with testimonials of heart attack survivors such as Detrow.
The underpinning of the campaign is clear: getting appropriate medical attention within an hour of a heart attack halves the risk of dying.
In , an American Heart Association survey conducted every three years found that 79 percent of women reported that the first thing they would do if they thought they were having a heart attack was to call But in the survey, "we were shocked … that only 53 percent of women said they would call first," said Suzanne Haynes, senior science adviser for the Office on Women's Health and director of the campaign.
Women easily overlook or excuse subtle symptoms that can end in a heart attack, as well as many acute symptoms during a heart attack, said Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and one of the campaign's developers.
The seven major signs you are having a heart attack:
Unusual or unexplained fatigue unrelated to exercise. "You're absolutely exhausted when you try to do any activity. You feel as though you don't have the strength," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of New York University's Women's Heart Program. "This is not fatigue because you didn't sleep, your kids woke you up five times during the night or because you're having chills and fever from the flu." Dr. Roquelle E. Wyche, an attending cardiologist at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Association of Black Cardiologists, which is one of several partners in the campaign, said it's the kind of fatigue a woman might notice if, say, she usually parks a block away from her job and typically walks that block without any difficulty but starts to feel extremely tired and feels the need to rest. Mosca also noted that looking back, more than 80 percent of women with confirmed heart attacks had fatigue in the previous three to four months but didn't take it seriously.
Unfamiliar dizziness or lightheadedness. "This is a symptom that can be associated with others, because when you're having a heart attack, your heart is not pumping effectively and you're taking blood away from your brain and you're dizzy or might feel like fainting," said Goldberg, author of "Women Are Not Small Men," which was revised and rereleased as "The Women's Healthy Heart Program -- Lifesaving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease."
Unexplained nausea, vomiting. "Usually what happens is people get a symptom like lower chest pressure or upper abdomen pressure, and the associated symptom is nausea and vomiting," Goldberg said.
Sharp pain in the upper body, including the neck, back and jaw. This is a significant symptom, particularly when this is the first time a woman has felt pain in those places, Wyche said.
Severe shortness of breath. Goldberg described this as feeling as if "you've run a marathon but you've not made a move."
Heavy pressure on the chest, which may feel like indigestion, heartburn, fullness or squeezing, lasts more than a few minutes and may abate before returning. "The chest pressure is relentless. it doesn't change with positional changes. It could be associated with nausea, vomiting, a cold sweat, feeling like you're going to faint or you may faint," Goldberg said.
Cold sweats that do not resemble the hot flashes associated with menopause.
Women Experience Delays in Diagnosis
Detrow's rapid heartbeat was another dangerous heart attack warning sign that shouldn't be ignored, Goldberg said. "During a heart attack, you are at greater risk for life-threatening arrhythmia."
Haynes predicted that a successful campaign could save "hundreds if not thousands of lives." More women than men die within a month of suffering a heart attack, she said, citing unpublished data tabulated by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that found a day mortality rate for women after a heart attack was percent, compared with percent for men. "We think part of the reason is because they delay," Haynes said.
Not only do women hesitate to call , but even when emergency medical responders arrive at her house, some women will send them away. She may even take an aspirin to see if she feels better, because she's heard aspirin can be helpful. "If you're going to take an aspirin, you need to simultaneously call ," Goldberg said.
Once women reach the ER, it takes a while for them to get diagnosed. "That's because nurses and doctors don't routinely ask about atypical symptoms," Mosca said. "There is not a standard way of actually asking these questions."
In addition, women often don't clearly spell out suspicious symptoms, and even when they do, some health professionals may not recognize them. Goldberg shared the story of one of her patients, who before she came to her had experienced major fatigue, and went from doctor to doctor. "Finally, an ophthalmologist sent her for a stress test, but the day of the stress test, she collapsed, was taken to the hospital and received stents."
Wyche, advocacy director for the Association of Black Cardiologists, said that although physicians have come a long way in recognizing women's cardiac symptoms, "a good portion of the woman's job is to advocate for themselves. In addition to knowing the symptoms, they should say, 'I want to make sure my symptoms are not related to a heart attack.'"
Call it women's intuition, albeit with an overlay of denial, but Mosca said that "in almost every anecdotal situation," involving heart attacks, "women know it's different and there's something wrong.
"The challenge is they're in denial and waiting for it to go away," she said. "They don't want to be embarrassed. We have to help women overcome the fear of being wrong, because that's a fatal mistake."
Vertigo (Unknown Cause)
Vertigo is a false feeling of motion. You aren't moving, but it feels as if you are. This feeling can be caused by problems in the inner ear. In addition to helping with hearing, the inner ear is part of the balance center of your body. When something affects the balance center, you can have vertigo. Often it feels as if you or the room are spinning. A vertigo attack may cause sudden nausea, vomiting, and heavy sweating. Severe vertigo causes a loss of balance and can make you fall. During vertigo, small head movements and changes in body position will often make the symptoms worse. You may also have ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
An episode of vertigo may last seconds, minutes, or hours. Once you are over the first episode, it may never come back. But symptoms may return off and on. Often your provider will have you do certain head and body movements in the office to treat your vertigo.
The cause of your vertigo is not yet known. Possible causes of vertigo include:
Inner ear inflammation
Disease of the nerves to the inner ear
Movement of calcium particles in the inner ear
Poor blood flow to the balance centers of the brain
In older adults, the use of more than one medicine along with some health conditions
If symptoms are severe, rest quietly in bed. Change positions very slowly. There is often one position that will feel best. This may be lying on one side or lying on your back with your head slightly raised on pillows. Until you have no symptoms, you are at a higher risk of falling. Let someone help you when you get up. Get rid of home hazards such as loose electrical cords and throw rugs. Don’t walk in unfamiliar areas that are not lighted. Use night-lights in bathrooms and kitchens.
Don't drive a car or work with dangerous machinery until symptoms have been gone for at least 1 week.
Take medicine as prescribed to ease your symptoms. Unless another medicine was prescribed for symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, you may use over-the-counter motion sickness pills. If you have any questions about an over-the-counter medicine or its side effects, talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking it.
Follow up with your healthcare provider or as directed. If you are referred to a specialist or for testing, make the appointment right away.
When to get medical advice
Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:
Fever of °F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider
Vertigo gets worse or is not controlled by prescribed medicine
Repeated vomiting that doesn't stop after taking prescribed medicine
Weakness of an arm, leg, or one side of the face
Trouble with speech or vision
Call if any of these occur:
Feeling faint (loss of consciousness)
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All about hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Hypoglycemia refers to low levels of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. Hypoglycemia is not a disease, but it can indicate a health problem.
All the body’s cells, including the brain, need energy to function. Glucose supplies energy to the body. Insulin, a hormone, enables the cells to absorb and use it.
Signs of low blood sugar include hunger, trembling, heart racing, nausea, and sweating. In severe cases, it can lead to coma and death.
Hypoglycemia can occur with several conditions, but it most commonly happens as a reaction to medications, such as insulin. People with diabetes use insulin to treat high blood sugar.
People with mild hypoglycemia may experience the following :
- tremor or trembling
- a pale face
- heart palpitations
- rapid or irregular heart rate
- dizziness and weakness
- blurred vision
Severe hypoglycemia may involve:
- weakness and tiredness
- poor concentration
- irritability and nervousness
- irrational or argumentative behavior and personality changes
- tingling in the mouth
- coordination problems
If a person does not take action, they may have:
- difficulty eating or drinking
- a loss of consciousness
Severe hypoglycemia can be life-threatening.
A person who regularly experiences hypoglycemia may become unaware that it is happening or getting worse. They will not notice the warning signs, and this can lead to severe and possibly fatal complications.
Hypoglycemia is often a sign of poorly managed diabetes.
Hypoglycemia can occur for various reasons.
Blood sugar regulation
The digestive system breaks down carbohydrates from food. One of the molecules this creates is glucose, the body’s main source of energy.
Glucose enters the bloodstream after we eat. However, glucose needs insulin — a hormone that the pancreas produces — before it can enter a cell. In other words, even if there is plenty of glucose available, a cell will starve of energy if there is no insulin.
After eating, the pancreas automatically releases the right amount of insulin to move the glucose in blood into the cells. As glucose enters the cells, the blood sugar levels fall.
Any extra glucose goes into the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen, or stored glucose. The body can use this glucose later when it needs more energy.
Insulin is responsible for bringing high blood sugar levels back to normal.
If glucose levels fall because an individual has not eaten for a while, the pancreas secretes glucagon — another hormone — which triggers the breakdown of stored glycogen into glucose.
The body then releases the glycogen into the bloodstream, bringing glucose levels back up.
Hypoglycemia and diabetes
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes involve a problem with insulin.
Type 1 diabetes: Damage to the cells that normally produce insulin means that the body cannot produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes: The body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin or the pancreas may not release enough insulin.
In both types of diabetes, the cells do not get enough energy.
People with type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 need to take insulin or other drugs to reduce their blood sugar levels.
If the dose is too high, blood sugar levels can fall too far, leading to hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia can also occur if the person exercises more than usual or does not eat enough.
A person does not need to increase their dose to have too much insulin in their body. It may be that the insulin they took was more than their body needed at that moment.
According to the , both insulin and two other drugs can result in hypoglycemia. These drugs are sulfonylureas and meglitinides.
Hypoglycemia in children: Pediatric ketotic hypoglycemia
Some children experience pediatric ketotic hypoglycemia, involving low blood sugar levels and high levels of a substance known as ketones.
Doctors do not know exactly why this happens, but causes may include:
- metabolism problems that the child was born
- conditions that lead to excess production of certain hormones
Symptoms usually appear after the age of 6 months and disappear before adolescence.
- pale skin
- mood changes
- clumsy or jerky movements
If a child shows any of the above signs or symptoms, they should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Insulin autoimmune syndrome
Another possible cause of hypoglycemia is insulin autoimmune syndrome, a rare disease that happens when the body’s immune system attacks insulin, mistaking it for an unwanted substance.
Symptoms tend to appear suddenly, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD). They often go away after a few months, but sometimes they come back again.
Treatment can usually control the symptoms.
Symptoms and treatment are similar to those for hypoglycemia due to other causes.
People may experience hypoglycemia for other reasons.
Some medications: Quinine, a drug that prevents malaria, can trigger hypoglycemia. High doses of salicylates, used to treat rheumatic disease, or propranolol for hypertension (high blood pressure) may also cause blood sugar levels to drop. It can also happen when a person takes diabetes medication without having diabetes.
Alcohol consumption: Drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause the liver to stop releasing stored glucose into the bloodstream.
Some liver diseases: Drug-induced hepatitis can lead to hypoglycemia, because it affects the liver.
Kidney disorders: People with a kidney disorder may have problems excreting medications. This can result in low blood sugar levels.
Not eating enough: People with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, may experience dramatic falls in their blood sugar levels. Fasting or missing a meal may lead to low blood sugar levels.
Insulinoma: A tumor in the pancreas can cause the pancreas to produce too much insulin.
Increased activity: Increasing levels of physical activity can lower blood sugar levels for some time.
Endocrine problems: Some disorders of the adrenal and pituitary glands can lead to hypoglycemia. This is more common in children than adults.
Reactive, or postprandial, hypoglycemia: The pancreas produces too much insulin after a meal.
Tumors: Rarely, a tumor in a part of the body other than the pancreas can cause hypoglycemia.
Severe illness: Some diseases, such as cancer, can affect many different organs, including the pancreas. This can lead to hypoglycemia.
Anybody who experiences the symptoms of hypoglycemia but does not know why should see a doctor.
The doctor will probably:
- order a blood test to measure blood sugar levels
- ask about symptoms, and whether they improve after blood sugar levels return to normal
- check the patient’s medical history and any medications they are taking
- ask the person about their alcohol consumption
A collection of three criteria, known as Whipple’s criteria, can suggest that symptoms stem from a pancreatic tumor.
The three criteria of Whipple’s Triad are as follows:
- Signs and symptoms indicate hypoglycemia.
- When symptoms occur, a blood test shows low plasma glucose levels.
- When glucose rises to normal levels, symptoms go away.
At the time of a visit to the doctor, a person may not have symptoms. The doctor may ask them to fast for a time, usually overnight. This allows hypoglycemia to occur so that the doctor can make a diagnosis.
Some people may have to spend time in the hospital and fast for longer.
If symptoms appear after eating, they will need another glucose test after eating.
Learn more here about pancreatic cancer.
A person who notices the signs of hypoglycemia should immediately consume:
- a glucose tablet
- a sugar lump
- a candy
- a glass of fruit juice
These can bring rapid results. After this, they should eat slower-release carbohydrates, such as cereals, bread, rice, or fruit.
Glucose tablets are available to purchase online.
The next step is to seek treatment for any underlying cause,
A person with diabetes should check their blood glucose and treat the hypoglycemia, then wait 15–20 minutes and check their blood sugar again.
If blood glucose levels are still low, the person should repeat the process. They should eat some glucose, wait about 15–20 minutes, then check their blood sugar again.
People with diabetes need to keep to regular eating times. This will help to keep blood glucose levels stable
If symptoms are severe, and the individual cannot treat themselves, somebody else will need to apply honey, treacle, jam, or Glucogel to the inside of the cheeks and then gently massage the outside of the cheeks.
The person should start feeling better within 10–20 minutes.
If the person loses consciousness, someone should place them in the recovery position, and a qualified health professional should administer a glucagon injection.
If this is not possible, someone should call for emergency services to take the person to the emergency department of a hospital.
It is important not to place food or drink into the mouth of an unconscious person, as it could block the airways.
A number of dietary factors may help control hypoglycemia.
Low-sugar diet: A low intake of simple sugars and a high intake of complex carbohydrates is helpful. Complex carbs take longer to absorb, and this can help prevent glucose swings.
Small, frequent meals: Eating small meals at least three times a day can help maintain blood sugar levels.
Find out more about counting carbs in our dedicated article here.
Some people have recommended a low-sugar, high-protein diet for people with hypoglycemia, but this may reduce glucose tolerance and add unwanted fat to the diet.
Hypoglycemia vs. hyperglycemia
Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia both relate to blood sugar levels, but they are not the same.
Hypoglycemia: There is too little glucose in the blood, below 70 mg/dL.
Hyperglycemia: Glucose levels are too high, above mg/L when fasting or mg/dL 2 hours after eating.
Eating regular meals that include complex carbohydrates can prevent hypoglycemia for most people.
Those with a risk of hypoglycemia due to a medical condition should also:
Follow a treatment plan: It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions and seek help if symptoms change.
Checking blood glucose levels: Those at risk should check their blood sugar levels regularly and know how to recognize the symptoms.
Alcohol: Follow the daily alcohol limits that a doctor recommends and avoid drinking alcohol without food.
Exercise: Eat a carbohydrate-rich snack before exercising and be aware of how exercise can impact blood sugar levels.
Taking care when sick: Vomiting, for example, can prevent the body from absorbing enough energy.
Being ready: Carry a container of sugary fruit juice or a candy bar in case symptoms appear.
Letting people know: Those who are prone to low blood sugar should let friends, colleagues, and family members know.
Medical ID: Carrying a form of ID or medical bracelet will enable healthcare providers, emergency services, and others to know what to do sooner.
Hypoglycemia can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, and, in severe cases, a loss of consciousness.
People with a number of medical conditions, including diabetes, may have a higher risk of hypoglycemia.
It is important to know how to recognize the symptoms and to be ready to take action if they occur.