Navigate Up

Orthopaedics Center - A-Z Index

#
I
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too low.

Blood sugar below 70 mg/dL is considered low. Blood sugar at or below this level can harm you.

Alternative Names

Insulin shock; Low blood sugar

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Hypoglycemia occurs when:

  • Your body's sugar (glucose) is used up too quickly
  • Glucose is released into the bloodstream too slowly
  • Too much insulin is released into the bloodstream

Insulin is a hormone that reduces blood sugar. It is produced by the pancreas in response to increased glucose levels in the blood.

Low blood sugar is most commonly seen in people with diabetes who are taking insulin or other medicines to control their diabetes.

Babies who are born to mothers with diabetes may have severe drops in blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia in people who do not have diabetes may be caused by:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Insulinoma - a rare tumor in the pancreas that produces too much insulin
  • Lack (deficiency) of a hormone, such as cortisol or thyroid hormone
  • Severe heart, kidney, or liver failure or a body-wide infection
  • Some types of weight-loss surgery

Symptoms

Symptoms you may have when your blood sugar gets too low include:

  • Double vision or blurry vision
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Feeling cranky or acting aggressive
  • Feeling nervous
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Tingling or numbness of the skin
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unclear thinking

Sometimes your blood sugar may be too low, even if you do not have symptoms. If your blood sugar gets too low, you may:

  • Faint
  • Have a seizure
  • Go into a coma

Signs and tests

Home monitoring of blood sugar with a fingerstick sample will show readings lower than 70 mg/dL on your glucose monitor.

A blood glucose test in a blood sample taken from your veins will be low.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause. People with diabetes will need to learn how to treat and prevent low blood sugar levels .

If hypoglycemia is caused by an insulinoma (insulin-releasing tumor), surgery to remove the tumor is the best treatment.

Complications

Severe hypoglycemia is a medical emergency that may cause seizures and permanent brain damage. Severe hypoglycemia in which you become unconscious is also called insulin shock.

Calling your health care provider

If signs of low blood sugar do not improve after you have eaten a snack that contains sugar:

  • GET A RIDE to the emergency room, or
  • Call a local emergency number (such as 911)

DO NOT drive when your blood sugar is low.

Get medical help right away for a person with diabetes or low blood sugar who:

  • Becomes less alert
  • Cannot be woken up

References

Cryer PE. Hypoglycemia. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Kronenberg: Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 34.

Updated: 6/27/2012

Shehzad Topiwala, MD, Chief Consultant Endocrinologist, Premier Medical Associates, The Villages, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com