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Treatment of Hypoglycemia

Treatment of Hypoglycemia

Certain foods and liquids are especially helpful for treating hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia, which means low blood glucose, is a potential side effect of insulin, as well as of several oral drugs. There are two types of hypoglycemic symptoms: adrenergic and neurologic. Adrenergic symptoms (typically sweating, palpitations, nervousness, hunger, faintness, weakness, and numbness around the mouth) result when low blood glucose levels trigger the release of the hormone epinephrine into the blood. This response helps return glucose levels to normal, as does the release of glucagon from the pancreas.

These protective actions, particularly the release of glucagon, are often lost after five to 10 years of diabetes. Though unpleasant, adrenergic symptoms alert people with diabetes that they need to eat some sugar-containing food or drink some juice to raise their blood glucose levels rapidly. However, the symptoms of hypoglycemia may be diminished or absent in patients who are taking beta-blockers or in those who have nerve damage after many years of diabetes.

Neurologic symptoms such as headache, lack of coordination, double vision, inappropriate behavior and confusion are a greater danger, because people may become confused before they can treat themselves, and will thus need another person's assistance. Extreme hypoglycemia can cause seizures, coma, or, in rare cases, permanent brain damage and death.

Certain foods and liquids are especially helpful for treating hypoglycemia. For example, four to six ounces of apple or orange juice, five to seven hard candies, or glucose tablets can raise blood glucose quickly. People with diabetes should always have one of these on hand. Avoid using foods like chocolate or nuts, which contain carbohydrates but take longer to digest because they also contain fat. Glucagon can raise blood glucose levels rapidly; it must be administered by injection. Some people with diabetes keep glucagon in the refrigerator. Someone else can be trained to inject glucagon, in case the person with diabetes experiences a severe episode of hypoglycemia and is not alert enough to eat or drink anything.


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