|Also Listed As:
|| Blood Sugar, Low; Low Blood
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 your blood
sugar levels within a narrow range through the coordinated work of several
glands and their hormones. But factors such as disease or a poor diet can
disrupt the mechanisms that regulate your sugar levels. Too much glucose
(hyperglycemia) results in diabetes, and too little glucose results in
|Signs and Symptoms|
Because glucose (sugar) is the brain's primary fuel, your brain feels the
effects of hypoglycemia. The effects include the following.
- Excessive sweating
- Blurred vision, dizziness
- Trembling, incoordination
- Depression, anxiety
- Mental confusion, irritability
- Heart palpitations
- Slurred speech
|What Causes It?|
Hypoglycemia can be caused by the following conditions.
- Drugs (such as insulin or alcohol)
- Critical organ failure (kidney, heart, or liver)
- Hormone deficiencies
- Inherited abnormalities
- Lack of an appropriate diet, especially with a critical
- With strenuous exercise several hours after eating
- After gastrointestinal
|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 (GTT). If your levels are only slightly
above normal, your provider may recommend diet and lifestyle changes. If your
symptoms are severe, your 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 can determine the cause of your low blood
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
- Oral glucose for people who are able to swallow (10 to 20 g
- Intravenous glucose for people who are unable to swallow
- Subcutaneous or intramuscular injection of glucagon is an alternative
to the above treatments, but the individual must also eat because the effect of
glucagon is short.
- Intravenous mannitoland glucocorticoids may be used to treat an
individual who remains in a coma after glucose levels return to
|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.
Small frequent meals that are high in protein and complex carbohydrates are
best, preferably five or six a day. Cut down on simple carbohydrates including
sugar, refined foods, juices, and fruit. Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and
Vitamins and minerals that are important for regulating glucose levels
include the following.
- Chromium picolinate: 100 to 200 mcg three times per day with
- Magnesium: 200 mg two to three times per day
- Vanadyl sulfate: 10 to 20 mg per day
- Zinc: 15 to 30 mg per day
- B complex: 50 to 100 mg per day
- Niacinamide: 500 mg per day
- Pyridoxine (B6): 100 mg per day
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 250 mg per day
- Vitamin C: 250 to 500 mg two times per day
- Vitamin E: 400 IU per day
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As
with any therapy, it is important to work with your provider on getting your
problem diagnosed before you start any treatment. Herbs may be used as dried
extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or
tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made
with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or
flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. Tinctures
may be used singly or in combination as noted.
- Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) provides adrenal
support. Use tincture 20 drops two times a day or dried extract 100 mg three
times a day for two to three weeks with a one week rest before you start taking
- A tincture of equal parts of licorice root (Glycyrrhiza
glabra), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Siberian ginseng, and
ginger root (Zingiber officinale) may be used in combination to
strengthen the adrenals and help hypoglycemic symptoms. Take 10 to 15 drops
three times a day. Do not take licorice if you have high blood
May be beneficial in decreasing stress and increasing coping
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 when you
Do not ignore the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia. Untreated, it can cause
irreversible brain damage, coma, or even death.
Anderson RA, Polansky MM, Bryden NA, Bhathena SJ, Canary JJ. Effects of
supplemental chromium on patients with symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia.
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Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Isselbacher KJ, et al., eds. Harrison's Principles
of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill;
Mowry DB. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. New Canaan,
Conn: Keats Publishing; 1986:25.
Tyler VE. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals.
Binghamton, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1994:141.
Wilson JD, Foster DW. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 8th ed.
Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co; 1992:1232-1248.
Wyngaarden JB, Smith LH Jr. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 17th ed.
Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co; 1985:1342-1348.
|Review Date: August 1999|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, FACP,
Director, The Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, Lutherville, MD; Anne
McClenon, ND, Compass Family Health Center, Plymouth, MA; Leonard Wisneski, MD,
FACP, George Washington University, Rockville,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse
of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed