Also called low blood sugar, hypoglycemia can affect your moods and overall well-being. Learn what causes low blood sugar and how you can keep your levels normal.
Ask Patricia Ryder’s family and friends about her disposition, and they’ll tell you she’s awesome and fun to be around, except when she’s hungry. Her husband makes sure that she carries protein bars in her purse. Her friends do, too.
“She gets mean and irritable when her blood sugar drops,” said her husband, Sam. “It’s easily offset when she eats a small piece of candy, an energy bar, or has a few sips of orange juice.”
Ryder agreed, “I tend to snap at people when I’m hungry. I don’t mean to, but I do.”
Low blood sugar symptoms
For Ryder and many others with low blood sugar, when blood sugar levels drop, crankiness sets in. That’s just one symptom. A person with hypoglycemia can experience shakiness, anxiety, sweating, confusion, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, hunger, nausea, feeling tired, blurred vision, headaches, sadness, anger — and in extreme cases — can even pass out.
We get our blood glucose (also called blood sugar) from many of the foods we eat. Our liver and kidneys also make glucose, and our brains and other tissues in our bodies turn that glucose into fuel.
What is normal blood sugar?
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, happens when our blood glucose levels drop below 70 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter). To know what your blood sugar levels are, you’ll need a blood test. Your doctor will take a drop of blood from your finger for an accurate reading. The test takes a few seconds, and you’ll get the results immediately.
What causes low blood sugar?
Low blood sugar can be caused by certain medications used to treat diabetes. Insulin and other drugs that stimulate the pancreas to make insulin can cause hypoglycemia. Other causes include kidney, liver, or heart failure, but those are rare. Infections, low levels of certain hormones, and some tumors can cause it as well.
If you’re taking a specific medication that can cause hypoglycemia, your doctor will adjust the dosage. If you feel faint, dizzy, or irritable, it’s a good idea to drink juice or eat food to raise your blood sugar levels. The sugars and carbohydrates in your food can raise your blood sugar level. “It usually works for me,” said Ryder. “I know not to leave the house without a protein bar, or a piece of candy in my pocketbook. I also make sure to eat well. Skipping meals can trigger a low blood sugar attack for me.”
Ways to keep your blood sugar normal
One of the best ways to keep blood sugar levels normal is by eating a healthy diet of complex carbohydrates, some protein, and fruit. Avoid candy, soda, fruit juices, and other foods high in sugar. High fiber foods, such as oatmeal and grains, help prevent swings in blood sugar levels.
Snacks of a piece of fruit, crackers, popcorn, nuts, seeds, carrots, and celery sticks, and hummus and pita bread are good to eat between meals. They won’t fill you up and will work to keep your blood glucose levels normal.
In addition to snacking between meals, don’t skip breakfast. Even if you are short on time, it’s smart to eat breakfast. Skipping a meal can trigger a low blood sugar attack. That goes for traveling, too. When we’re on the go, we often miss eating a meal. That’s why it’s important to carry a small bag of crackers, nuts, seeds, or a piece of fruit with you. A small container of juice and water also helps avert low blood sugar episodes.
If you have any of symptoms of hypoglycemia, make an appointment to talk to your physician. Hypoglycemia is easily treated.
January 11, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN