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What is a Hypoglycemic Episode?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2016
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A hypoglycemic episode is a sharp drop in blood sugar concentrations, leading to a variety of symptoms. If left untreated, severe low blood glucose can cause convulsions, coma, and death. People at risk for hypoglycemic episodes include diabetic patients using insulin to manage their condition, alcoholics, people with metabolic disorders, and individuals with hormone dysfunction. Treatment requires getting blood sugar levels back up and finding out why they dropped in the first place to prevent a recurrence.

When blood sugar levels drop, people can experience very vague and generalized symptoms like feeling tired and shaky, along with specific symptoms like developing clammy skin, decreased mental ability, and hunger. People who know they are at risk for a hypoglycemic episodes may identify these symptoms very early and take steps to address them before they develop into more serious issues, like seizures. Others may not recognize the early warning signs until their blood sugar has dropped dangerously low.

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A person can experience a hypoglycemic episode as a result of not eating recently, producing too much insulin internally, taking an extra large insulin dose, or not processing glucose properly metabolically, leading to a decline in the concentration of blood sugar. Generally, symptoms start to appear when the blood glucose drops below 50 milligrams per decaliter, although patients can experience symptoms earlier, depending on their age and levels of physical fitness. Things like exercise can cause hypoglycemia to onset faster, as the body will quickly use up its supplies of stored glucose.

Glucose tablets and glucose drips can be used to quickly raise blood sugar in a patient experiencing a hypoglycemic episode. Some people carry tablets, hard candy, and other snacks to manage their blood sugar throughout the day. They can take a quick glucose reading to see if they need to eat, or eat at the early signs of falling blood sugar. If someone appears to be experiencing a hypoglycemic episode, bystanders can offer a snack, as well as call for help from a medical provider.

The development of a hypoglycemic episode can be a sign that a person's medical condition is not being adequately managed or that a person overextended by taking too much time between meals or exercising without snacking first. If someone without any known history of problems known to cause low blood sugar experiences such an event, medical evaluation may be recommended to find out more about what is happening to the patient. After evaluation and diagnosis, a treatment plan can be developed to keep blood glucose stable with diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary.

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