How to Diagnose Hypoglycemia

Diagnosing low blood sugar when you have diabetes is simple: If your blood sugar is below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or as determined by your blood glucose meter, you need immediate treatment with fast-acting carbohydrates. The American Diabetes Association defines severe hypoglycemia as a blood sugar level below 54 mg/dL.

If you do not have diabetes, hypoglycemia is defined as a blood sugar level of 55 mg/dL or lower. If you have symptoms of low blood sugar, your healthcare provider will need to start with a blood test to find out the cause. Similar to having a fever, low blood sugar is not a disease, it’s a condition that indicates something else is going on in your body.

Self-test / home test

If you are diabetic, especially when you have just been diagnosed and started treatment, you may experience episodes of hypoglycemia from time to time.

Check your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter if you start to experience any of the following symptoms of low blood sugar:

  • shake
  • irritability
  • Puzzled
  • Tachycardia (raised heart rate)
  • hunger

If your blood sugar reading is 70 mg/dL or less, you need immediate treatment with a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as three or four glucose tablets, half a banana, or a granola bar.

READ ALSO:  Why Diabetics Have Blurred Vision

Labs and Testing

If you do not have diabetes, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider if you continue to experience symptoms of low blood sugar. Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam, medical history, and ask you questions about your symptoms.

blood test

When you have symptoms, your healthcare provider will need to see if your blood sugar levels are low. If you experience symptoms of low blood sugar after eating, your healthcare provider may ask you to come back after eating to check your blood sugar. You may also have blood drawn and sent to a lab to analyze your insulin levels and/or other substances in your blood.

Glucose enters cells with the help of insulin and glucose transporters.

If you do have hypoglycemia, the cause may be as simple as you are taking medications that can cause hypoglycemia, such as antibiotics Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim), beta blockers, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) or Haldol (haloperidol), or alcoholism.

If it’s not caused by drugs or alcohol, your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to find the underlying cause, such as hormone deficiencies or conditions such as kidney disease or hepatitis.

Differential diagnosis

If you don’t have diabetes and you have symptoms of low blood sugar, but your blood sugar levels are normal, there are other conditions. In fact, your symptoms can be attributed to a long list of conditions.

READ ALSO:  Swimming for diabetes

The most common non-diabetic causes include:

  • liver, kidney or heart disease
  • malnutrition
  • hormone deficiency
  • drug side effects
  • metabolic disorders, such as hyperthyroidism

Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to find the cause of your symptoms, based on your symptoms and your family and medical history.

If you have diabetes and your blood sugar levels are too low but you have few or no symptoms, it may be due to the low blood sugar being unintentional.

When you have repeated episodes of hypoglycemia, you can stop having symptoms. In this case, hypoglycemia usually occurs at night, when you don’t know your blood sugar levels have dropped.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, depending on your needs and preferences, it may be beneficial to initiate continuous glucose monitoring, continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion, and/or automatic insulin delivery shortly after diagnosis.

A continuous glucose monitor can help detect low blood sugar, especially at night, because it alerts you when your blood sugar levels are too high or too low. Your healthcare provider will also work with you to control your levels so this doesn’t happen. Even two to three weeks of avoiding hypoglycemia can restore your body awareness.

READ ALSO:  How untreated diabetes affects your body

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will I be diagnosed with hypoglycemia if I don’t have diabetes?

    Yes, but it’s rare. In these cases, you may experience low blood sugar for several reasons:

    • prediabetes
    • gastric surgery complications
    • a rare enzyme deficiency
    • drug side effects
    • excessive drinking
    • liver, heart or kidney disease
    • hormonal imbalance
    • tumors that produce insulin or similar hormones
  • What type of health care provider can I get to test for low blood sugar?

    Your primary care healthcare provider can check your blood sugar levels and may refer you to a specialist. Endocrinologists typically diagnose and treat hypoglycemia and other hormone-related disorders, including diabetes.

  • Can I test myself for low blood sugar at home?

    Yes. You can check to see if your diabetes medication increases your risk of low blood sugar or if the symptoms you are experiencing are due to low blood sugar. You can buy over-the-counter test kits, which require you to prick your finger to get a drop of blood. Place it on the test strip, which provides a digital readout of your blood sugar level.

Learn how to properly treat hypoglycemia