Hypoglycemia Without Diabetes: Children vs. Adults

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Many people are familiar with diabetes and high blood sugars. Low blood sugars in people without diabetes is less common. In this lesson, we will learn about how our body manages blood sugars and about non-diabetic hypoglycemia.

Blood Sugar

When you eat, your body digests the food into a form of sugar called glucose. The glucose in your bloodstream provides energy for your body to function. Any unused glucose is stored in your liver.

Your body also produces hormones such as insulin and glucagon. These hormone levels increase and decrease as needed to keep your blood sugar within the normal range. If blood sugars are too low, it's called hypoglycemia and if they are too high it's called hyperglycemia.

Many people are familiar with diabetes. This is a disease associated with hyperglycemia due to the body not producing insulin at all or producing an inadequate amount of insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. There are other disorders that result in hypoglycemia as well.

Let's look into what happens with low blood sugar.

What Happens with Low Blood Sugar?

If you haven't eaten in a while, your blood sugar will drop. Your body recognizes this and your pancreas will decrease the amount of insulin being produced. Your pancreas will release glucagon, which helps to release glucose back into your bloodstream, which in turn increases your blood sugar.

People with diabetes have to administer their own insulin, and if they don't eat or if they take too much insulin they can have hypoglycemia. But hypoglycemia can also affect people without diabetes. The symptoms of hypoglycemia are the same, regardless of cause. If your blood sugar is low, you will be cranky, shaky, weak, and tired. You may feel confused and will feel hungry. You may be sweating and your heart may be beating fast. Many people experience a headache as well.

Sometimes the body's regulatory system isn't working right. This results in issues with low blood sugars. There are two types of non-diabetic hypoglycemia: reactive and non-reactive. Let's learn more about each of these.

Reactive Hypoglycemia

Sally notices that she is often hungry again only a few hours after she eats. And not just hungry; her head doesn't feel right and she feels shaky. She has to eat again to feel better. She discusses this with her physician and after further work-up, he tells her she has reactive hypoglycemia.

Reactive hypoglycemia occurs a few hours after a meal and occurs because the pancreas produces too much insulin. Typically after eating, your blood sugar increases, which is why the pancreas produces insulin. The insulin production brings the blood sugar level back to normal limits. But in reactive hypoglycemia, the pancreas produces too much insulin, causing the blood sugars to drop!

Non-Reactive Hypoglycemia

Harry has been binge drinking with his college friends every weekend. He started noticing he would feel sweaty and dizzy when he hadn't eaten in a while. He would get a headache and feel confused. He visited his doctor, who determined that he had non-reactive hypoglycemia.

As the name suggests, in this type of hypoglycemia it is not caused by the pancreas over-reacting and producing too much insulin. Non-reactive hypoglycemia is also referred to as fasting hypoglycemia. In this condition, your blood sugar will be low if you are anorexic or pregnant. It can also be caused by some medications or by excessive alcohol use, like we saw with Harry.

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