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Hypoglycaemia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hypoglycaemia

Hypoglycaemia is defined as low blood sugar level which may cause harm to the individual and may also progress to a medical emergency if not treated promptly. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is responsible for effective utilisation of blood sugar, thus reducing its level in the blood. It usually gets secreted in response to elevated level of blood sugar.

Hypoglycaemia: Incidence, age and sex

Hypoglycaemia is commonly seen in diabetics due to various reasons as mentioned later. It is more commonly seen in diabetics who are elderly or have longstanding illnesses. Men and women are equally affected.

Signs and symptoms of hypoglycaemia: Diagnosis

The clinical features of hypoglycaemia are increased hunger, excessive sweating, giddiness, headache, slurring of speech, blurred vision and palpitations. If left unattended, it may progress to convulsions and even loss of consciousness.

Individuals who are on diabetes treatment are advised to immediately check their blood sugar at home. The level of blood sugars either at home or checked by the laboratory, if less than 70 mg/dl confirms the diagnosis. Imaging tests of the abdomen can also be done if a tumour of the pancreas is suspected.

Causes and prevention of hypoglycaemia

Insulin is a hormone produced by certain cells called beta cells of the pancreas and is responsible for glucose regulation. Individuals with diabetes take insulin or other oral hypoglycaemic agents to keep their blood sugar levels under control. However, poor management of diabetic patients or aggressive treatment may result in hypoglycaemia. Not only this, fasting or excessive physical activity or increased consumption of alcohol in diabetics may also lead to low levels of blood sugars. Other causes include tumour of the pancreas (insulinoma), gastrointestinal surgery or vital organ (heart, liver, or kidney) failure.

Prevention of hypoglycaemia can be achieved by appropriate management of diabetes, regular monitoring of the blood sugar levels in diabetics especially during fasting and before exercising. Moreover, it is essential to educate a diabetes patient so that he/she can learn to recognize early warning signs of hypoglycaemia and manage the condition before it deteriorates. It is advisable for diabetics to take alcohol in moderation and avoid total skipping of meals.

Hypoglycaemia: Complications

Hypoglycaemia may sometimes result as a complication of overzealous treatment of diabetes. However, hypoglycaemia if ignored, may progress to loss of consciousness and coma. This is a medical emergency and must be handled immediately.

Hypoglycaemia: Treatment

The treatment of hypoglycaemia depends upon the cause. Thus, it is essential to comprehensively evaluate the cause of hypoglycaemia. Hypoglycaemia arising due to pancreatic tumour (insulinoma) should be treated accordingly. However, a history of diabetes in an affected individual may easily help in assessing the situation. It is essential to immediately check blood sugar which if found low, must be managed without delay. It is recommended to immediately take sugars in any form (glucose tablets, fruit juice, honey, sugar drink or chocolate). If the individual has lost consciousness, then injectible glucose or glucagons (hormone) is usually given. Individuals on diabetic therapy need to monitor their blood glucose regularly. Self-monitoring of blood glucose with commercially available glucose-testing devices is especially important for patients who are on insulin to prevent further episodes of hypoglycaemia.