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What Is Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia?

Anything below 70 milligrams per deciliter is considered a low blood sugar level.
A person with hypoglycemia checking her blood glucose levels.
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  • Written By: Shelby Miller
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2014
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Non-diabetic hypoglycemia is a condition in which blood glucose levels are too low in non-diabetic individuals. Low blood sugar can create a variety of symptoms, ranging from light-headedness, tunnel vision, and shakiness, to more severe neurological dysfunction, because glucose is the only source of fuel to the brain. In non-diabetic individuals, it is generally a temporary and mild condition that can be corrected by ingesting carbohydrates to restore glucose — the body’s most immediate energy source — to normal levels, whereas in diabetics it can be a very serious condition that can lead to a loss of consciousness or other neurological defects.

This condition can occur in non-diabetic individuals due to a variety of causes. These may include the overproduction of insulin, the hormone that breaks down sugars in the bloodstream. It can also be caused by other inherited factors like hormone imbalances, fasting or avoidance of carbohydrates, certain medications, and the malfunctioning of certain organs due to other illnesses.

While diabetics can be diagnosed with hypoglycemia simply by testing their blood-sugar levels, non-diabetic hypoglycemia may not be so straightforward. Three measures must be considered to diagnose this condition. These measures, known as Whipple’s triad, involve looking for symptoms specific to hypoglycemia, being able to detect low blood sugar levels when these symptoms present, and upon treatment, seeing an increase in blood sugar levels and reduction of symptoms consistent with this condition.

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The first criterion in diagnosing non-diabetic hypoglycemia, identifying the symptoms, involves looking for physiological, digestive, and neurological dysfunction. Outward physical signs of this condition including shaking, sweating, a pale complexion, and dilated pupils. Inwardly, the patient may complain of nervousness, a rapid heartbeat, and a tingling sensation in the extremities. Digestive symptoms may include nausea, stomach pain, and even vomiting. Neurological symptoms, which may be either observed or reported, include difficulty in concentrating, impaired judgment, mood swings, double vision, headaches, slurred speech, weakness, and lethargy, among other things.

Measuring blood sugar levels at the time these symptoms present is another key criterion of diagnosing non-diabetic hypoglycemia. Normal blood sugar levels range from 4-8 mmol/L (72-144 mg/dL), whereas blood glucose is considered low enough for symptoms to occur once it drops to the range of 2.8-3.0 mmol/L (50-54 mg/dL). These are typical levels, but factors like age and the presence of other conditions may impact this diagnosis.

Finally, treating non-diabetic hypoglycemia and then watching for symptoms to dissipate is the final step in confirming this condition. Treatment is simple: the administration of carbohydrates, typically in the form of easily digestible sugars like those found in orange juice or a banana. A conscious person will be given a simple-carbohydrate-dense food or drink, and symptoms should dissolve in minutes. Unconscious individuals can receive treatment intravenously, usually in the form of dextrose, to return blood glucose levels to normal and restore brain function.

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