Diagnosis

If you have hypoglycemia symptoms, your health care provider will likely conduct a physical exam and review your medical history.

If you use insulin or another diabetes medication to lower your blood sugar, and you have signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, test your blood sugar levels with a blood glucose meter. If the result shows low blood sugar (under 70 mg/dL), treat according to your diabetes treatment plan.

Keep a record of your blood sugar testing results and how you treated low blood sugar levels so that your health care provider can review the information to help adjust your diabetes treatment plan.

If you don't use medications known to cause hypoglycemia, your health care provider will want to know:

  • What were your signs and symptoms? If you don't have signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia during your initial visit with your health care provider, he or she might have you fast overnight or longer. This will allow low blood sugar symptoms to occur so that a diagnosis can be made. It's also possible that you'll need do an extended fast — up to 72 hours — in a hospital setting.
  • What is your blood sugar level when you're having symptoms? Your health care provider will draw a blood sample to be analyzed in the lab. If your symptoms occur after a meal, the blood sugar tests may be done after you eat.
  • Do your symptoms disappear when blood sugar levels increase?

Treatment

Immediate hypoglycemia treatment

If you have hypoglycemia symptoms, do the following:

  • Eat or drink 15 to 20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates. These are sugary foods or drinks without protein or fat that are easily converted to sugar in the body. Try glucose tablets or gel, fruit juice, regular (not diet) soda, honey, or sugary candy.
  • Recheck blood sugar levels 15 minutes after treatment. If blood sugar levels are still under 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L), eat or drink another 15 to 20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate, and recheck your blood sugar level again in 15 minutes. Repeat these steps until the blood sugar is above 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L).
  • Have a snack or meal. Once your blood sugar is back in the standard range, eating a healthy snack or meal can help prevent another drop in blood sugar and replenish your body's glycogen stores.

Immediate treatment of severe hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is considered severe if you need help from someone to recover. For example, if you can't eat, you might need a glucagon injection or intravenous glucose.

In general, people with diabetes who are treated with insulin should have a glucagon kit for emergencies. Family and friends need to know where to find the kit and how to use it in case of emergency.

If you're helping someone who is unconscious, don't try to give the person food or drink. If there's no glucagon kit available or you don't know how to use it, call for emergency medical help.

Treatment of an underlying condition

Preventing recurrent hypoglycemia requires your health care provider to identify the condition causing hypoglycemia and treat it. Depending on the cause, treatment may involve:

  • Nutrition counseling. A review of eating habits and food planning with a registered dietitian may help reduce hypoglycemia.
  • Medications. If a medication is the cause of your hypoglycemia, your health care provider will likely suggest adding, changing or stopping the medication or adjusting the dosage.
  • Tumor treatment. A tumor in your pancreas is typically treated by surgical removal of the tumor. In some cases, medication to control hypoglycemia or partial removal of the pancreas is necessary.

Preparing for your appointment

If you have diabetes and you're having repeated episodes of hypoglycemia, or if your blood sugar levels are dropping significantly, talk with your health care provider to find out how you might need to change your diabetes treatment plan.

If you haven't been diagnosed with diabetes, make an appointment with your primary care provider to determine the cause of your hypoglycemia and appropriate treatment.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment. Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you can help you remember the information you're given.

What you can do

Before your appointment:

  • Make a list of your symptoms, including when they started and how often they occur.
  • List your key medical information, including other conditions for which you're being treated and the names of all medications, vitamins or other supplements you take, including doses.
  • Provide your diabetes treatment information if you have diabetes. Include the timing and results of recent blood sugar tests, as well as the schedule on which you've been taking your medications, if any.
  • List your typical daily habits, including alcohol intake, meals and exercise routines. Also, note recent changes to these habits, such as a new exercise routine, or a new job that's changed the times you eat.
  • Make a list of questions to ask your health care provider.

Questions to ask your health care provider if you have diabetes include:

  • Are my signs and symptoms due to hypoglycemia?
  • What do you think is triggering my hypoglycemia?
  • Do I need to adjust my treatment plan?
  • Do I need to change my eating or exercise routine?
  • I have other health conditions. How can I manage these conditions together?

Questions to ask your health care provider if you haven't been diagnosed with diabetes include:

  • Is hypoglycemia the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What else might be the cause?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What self-care steps, including lifestyle changes, can I take to help improve my symptoms?
  • Should I see a specialist?

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider might ask you questions, including:

  • What symptoms have you been experiencing?
  • When do your symptoms typically occur?
  • Does anything seem to trigger your symptoms?
  • Have you been diagnosed with other medical conditions?
  • What medications are you currently taking?

Your health care provider will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your appointment time.

May 04, 2022
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  3. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia. Accessed Nov. 11, 2021.
  4. Low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia. Accessed Nov. 22, 2021.
  5. Cryer PE. Hypoglycemia in adults with diabetes mellitus. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 23, 2021.
  6. Vella A. Hypoglycemia in adults without diabetes mellitus: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and causes. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 23, 2021.
  7. Hypoglycemia. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/endocrine-and-metabolic-disorders/diabetes-mellitus-and-disorders-of-carbohydrate-metabolism/hypoglycemia?query=Hypoglycemia#. Accessed Nov. 29, 2021.
  8. What is diabetes? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html. Accessed Nov. 29, 2021.
  9. Kittah NE, et al. Management of endocrine disease: Pathogenesis and management of hypoglycemia. European Journal of Endocrinology. 2017; doi:10.1530/EJE-16-1062.
  10. Vella A (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Dec. 2, 2021.
  11. Castro MR (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Jan. 7, 2022.

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