Hypoglycemia is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition where blood glucose becomes unnaturally low. For diabetics, this means a blood glucose level of 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less.
In a healthy individual, the interplay between insulin and glucagon prevent the occurence of both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and this is called glucose homeostasis. But for both type 1 diabetics and type 2 diabetics that require medications, careful dietary management and/or insulin injections to regulate glucose in the bloodstream, both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia are very real possibilities.
The most common cause of hypoglycemia in diabetics is administering too much insulin. With that said, strenuous exercise without enough stored energy from food, skipping meals and drinking alcohol excessively without food, can also trigger hypoglycemia in diabetics.
It is in fact possible for hypoglycemia to occur in non-diabetic individuals, such as babies who have not eaten for several hours, as a symptom of critical organ failure (especially kidney, heart and liver), hormone deficiencies, prolonged fasting and as a side effect to certain medications, but diabetics are by far the most at risk.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia can come on very quickly. A mild-to-moderate hypoglycemic episode can include dizziness, confusion, sweating, shaking, mood-swings, hunger, irregular heartbeat, and more. Severe hypoglycemic episodes can result in seizures, unconsciousness, and if untreated, coma and possibly death.
To treat hypoglycemia one must consume something high in glucose, including foods or drinks that are high in carbohydrates (sugars and/or starches) that are metabolized into glucose in the bloodstream once consumed. Natural options include eating raw honey, pure cane sugar, dried fruits such as raisins and fresh fruits such as bananas, and drinking fresh fruit juice, though consuming glucose tablets, drinking sugary beverages or eating other refined and processed snacks and candies will also help pull a suffering diabetic out of an uncomfortable hypoglycemic episode. In extreme cases of hypoglycemia, an injection of glucagon may be necessary to rapidly raise glucose levels in the blood.
For diabetics to prevent hypoglycemia from occurring, it is important to monitor blood glucose levels, eat regular and balanced meals, exercise regularly while being properly hydrated and fueled both before and during exertion, and be systematic and meticulous when administering insulin into the body. Certain whole food snacks such as fruit, nuts and seeds, can also be effective in maintaining glucose balance if blood glucose readings are getting low. Hypoglycemia is almost entirely avoidable if these precautions are taken.
Resources and Further Reading
Risk factors, symptoms and treatments for hypoglycemia: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia
Causes of hypoglycemia for both diabetics and non-diabetics:
A recent publication in the American Journal of Medicine detailing hypoglycemia and summarizing recent research findings: http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(14)00584-1/pdf
A guide to exercise and diabetes including how to prevent hypoglycemia when exercising:
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