Can You Have Low Blood Sugar Without Diabetes?

Low blood sugar can happen to anyone, not just people diagnosed with diabetes. Nondiabetic hypoglycemia, which is another term for…(continue reading)

Low blood sugar can happen to anyone, not just people diagnosed with diabetes.

Nondiabetic hypoglycemia, which is another term for low blood sugar, is a condition that can occur when your blood sugar levels drop too low and can happen for a number of different reasons.

In this article, we will discuss what nondiabetic hypoglycemia is, the symptoms of low blood sugar without diabetes, and the causes of low blood sugar without diabetes.

We will also discuss if it is preventable and answer any questions you may have about it.

What is nondiabetic hypoglycemia?

Nondiabetic hypoglycemia is low blood sugar, also called glucose, that occurs in people who do not have diabetes.

Hypoglycemia without diabetes is very rare, and usually only occurs when you have other medical conditions.

If you have hypoglycemia, this means your fasting levels of blood sugar are below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 3.9 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), with fasting meaning you haven’t eaten in a long time.

Please see your doctor or healthcare provider if you have low blood sugar and are uncertain of the cause.

What are the symptoms of nondiabetic hypoglycemia?

Nondiabetic hypoglycemia symptoms can vary from person to person and range in severity.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Feeling hungry
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Numbness or tingling in your cheeks, lips, or tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Lack of concentration
  • Blurred vision or impaired vision

If you have episodes of hypoglycemia and feel any of these symptoms and are not a diabetic, please eat or drink something that will raise your blood glucose level quickly such as hard candy, fruit juice, regular (not diet) soda, or glucose tablets and seek medical attention if you have severe hypoglycemia.

Dr. Aman Arora – Arora Medical Education

What are the causes of nondiabetic hypoglycemia?

There are many potential causes of low blood sugar in people without diabetes.

The most common causes include:

Alcoholism

When you drink alcohol, your liver is busy breaking down the alcohol and cannot release glucose into your bloodstream as it normally would.

Medications

Certain medications that are used to treat a wide array of medical problems from malaria to an irregular heartbeat can cause low blood sugar.

These drugs include beta-blockers, quinine, sulfonylureas, pentamidine, thiazolidinediones, and indomethacin to name a few.

Underlying illness

If you have an underlying medical condition, such as liver disease, kidney failure, or cancer, you may be at risk for low blood sugar.

Hormone deficiencies

Low levels of certain hormones, like cortisol and growth hormone, can also cause hypoglycemia.

These can be caused by adrenal gland or pituitary gland disorders such as Addison’s disease or tumors.

Insulin overproduction

In very rare cases, low blood sugar can be caused by a tumor on the pancreas that causes it to increase insulin production.

Enlargement of the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas may also cause low blood sugar.

The overproduction of insulin can also be a result of recently having bariatric surgery, which are surgeries that are done to make you less obese such as gastric bypass surgery, as your body may still act as if you are following your old eating habits and eating larger portions.

Reactive hypoglycemia

Reactive hypoglycemia is low blood sugar that happens a few hours after you eat a high-carbohydrate meal.

It occurs when your body makes too much insulin in response to the carbohydrates you ate. Reactive hypoglycemia is more common in people with diabetes, but can also occur in people without diabetes.

What complications can occur due to nondiabetic hypoglycemia?

If low blood sugar is not treated quickly, it can lead to more serious problems such as:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

Some of the symptoms can also contribute to getting hurt including falls, motor vehicle accidents, and other injuries. If you have hypoglycemia you also increase your risk of dementia too. 

Hypoglycemia unawareness, which is when you have recurrent episodes so often that your body stops producing a response to hypoglycemia, can also be a cause for concern.

The lack of awareness can cause low blood sugar to go unnoticed and untreated, which can lead to the more serious problems mentioned earlier.

How is nondiabetic hypoglycemia diagnosed?

There are a few ways your doctor can diagnose low blood sugar.

First, your doctor will probably start with a physical exam and may ask you to fast for a prolonged period of time and then check your blood sugar levels by analyzing a blood sample.

Your doctor may also ask you to keep a diary of everything you eat and drink and when you experience low blood sugar symptoms. If your doctor suspects that medication is the cause of your low blood sugar, he or she may switch you to a different medication.

If your doctor suspects an underlying medical condition, he or she may order some tests such as a CT scan or MRI.

How do you treat nondiabetic hypoglycemia?

The treatment for low blood sugar will depend on the underlying cause. If low blood sugar is caused by a medication, your doctor may switch you to a different medication.

If low blood sugar is caused by an underlying medical condition, your doctor will treat the condition. If low blood sugar is caused by diet or alcohol consumption, you will need to make some lifestyle changes.

You can also treat a hypoglycemic episode by eating or drinking something that contains sugar and carbohydrates such as fruit juice, candy, glucose tablet, glucose gel, or honey.

Eat or drink 15 to 20 grams of these foods or drinks and then check your blood sugar levels after 15 minutes. If your level of sugar is still low, you can have another dose of high-sugar food or drinks.

Continue these steps until your blood sugar levels are above 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L) and then eat a snack or meal to help maintain these levels. Also, call your doctor if you frequently have low blood sugar.

Can I prevent nondiabetic hypoglycemia?

The only thing you can do to help prevent nondiabetic hypoglycemia is to eat snacks and meals throughout the day so your blood sugar levels stay in the normal range.

However, this approach does not address any underlying causes and is not recommended as a long-term solution.

Please talk to your doctor or healthcare professional for medical advice about treating the cause of your hypoglycemia.

Summary

Nondiabetic hypoglycemia is low blood sugar that happens without diabetes.

Some of the most common symptoms include feeling tired, sweating, shaking, and having a fast heartbeat among others.

Nondiabetic hypoglycemia can be caused by a number of different things including medications, alcohol consumption, or an underlying medical condition. It is diagnosed with a blood test and treatment options include eating or drinking something with sugar in it.

You can help prevent nondiabetic hypoglycemia by eating snacks and meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels up; however, the only way to truly prevent low blood sugar is to address any underlying causes.

If you have any questions please talk to your doctor about hypoglycemia so they can help you better understand your condition.

References and Sources:

NIH

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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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