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Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a condition in which there is an abnormally low level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. Normally your body keeps blood sugar levels within a narrow range through the coordinated work of several organs and glands and their hormones, primarily insulin and glucagon. But factors such as disease or poor diet can disrupt the mechanisms that regulate your sugar levels. Too much glucose results in hyperglycemia, one of the major symptoms of diabetes. However, hypoglycemia is most common among people with diabetes, as too much insulin can cause blood sugar levels to fall (an insulin reaction). Left untreated, hypoglycemia can cause permanent neurological damage and death.
Signs and Symptoms
Since glucose (sugar) is the brain's primary fuel, your brain feels the majority of the following effects of hypoglycemia:
What Causes It?
The following conditions can cause hypoglycemia:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If your symptoms are not severe, your health care provider will order a blood test called a glucose tolerance test, the same test used to diagnose diabetes. If your levels are only slightly below normal, your health care provider may recommend diet and lifestyle changes. If your symptoms are severe, your health care provider will immediately give you glucose in either an oral or injectable form to bring your blood sugar level back to normal as quickly as possible. Additional tests may determine the cause of your low blood sugar.
It is important to treat low blood sugar immediately to avoid long term serious effects. Hypoglycemia resulting from exercise several hours after a meal rarely produces serious symptoms. A glass of orange juice and a piece of bread can correct your blood sugar levels within minutes. However, in people with underlying diseases, fluctuating blood sugar levels are more serious and must be treated with oral or injectable forms of glucose. You can take oral glucose if you are able to swallow. If not, your health care provider can give you an injection.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Long-term treatment is aimed at the cause of the hypoglycemia, but alternative therapies may also be useful in regulating blood sugar in the short term. Nutritional support should be part of treatment. Keep all of your physicians informed regarding all complementary and alternative treatments. Some of these treatments can interfere with conventional medical therapies. Work with a provider who is knowledgeable in complementary medicine to find the right mix of treatments for you.
Nutrition and Supplements
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). People with a history of alcoholism should not take tinctures. Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures singly or in combination as noted. If you are pregnant or nursing, talk to your doctor before using any herbal products.
Acupuncture may decrease stress, increase coping skills, and regulate hormone function.
Any underlying condition that may be causing your hypoglycemia must be aggressively treated so that your episodes do not recur. If you have hypoglycemia when you exercise, carry a healthy snack with you.
Do not ignore the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia. Untreated, it can cause irreversible brain damage, coma, or even death.
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Review Date: 4/4/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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