What is a Hypoglycemic Episode? - Causes & Treatment

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  • 0:04 Hypoglycemic Episode
  • 1:08 Causes
  • 3:19 Treatment
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heidi Howerton

Heidi has written education material for a well known hospital's pediatric neurosurgery unit and has her Bachelor's of Science degree in nursing.

In this lesson, we'll define what a hypoglycemic episode is and discuss what causes hypoglycemic episodes. We will also examine how hypoglycemic episodes are treated.

Hypoglycemic Episode

Chris, a 25-year-old male, loves to play soccer. One day after work Chris met up with his friends for a game. After a few minutes of playing, Chris became pale, shaky, and started speaking unintelligibly. At that moment Chris's colleague, Jonathan, showed up. After observing Chris's behavior, Jonathan asked if anyone on the team had fruit juice or soda. Jonathan knew that Chris had diabetes and was experiencing a hypoglycemic episode.

Hypoglycemia occurs when a person has a below normal level of sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. For people diagnosed with diabetes, hypoglycemia typically happens when blood sugar levels drop below 70 milligrams per deciliter of blood. A hypoglycemic episode is a single event in time when a person's blood sugar falls below the normal level. Hypoglycemic episodes can be scary to watch. It's important for the public to know the causes of hypoglycemic episodes and how to treat them so they can help accordingly. If Chris's friend Jonathon had not been familiar with Chris's history and the symptoms of hypoglycemia, Chris might have ended up in the hospital.


One of the leading causes of a hypoglycemic episode is diabetes. When a person eats a meal with sugar, the body processes that sugar and turns it into glucose. From there, a hormone called insulin that's made in the pancreas helps push the glucose from the bloodstream into a person's cells so that it can be stored or turned into energy. If a person's body can't properly use insulin or doesn't have enough insulin, then glucose begins to build up in the blood and can lead to diabetes and hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia occurs when a person's blood glucose levels are above normal. In order to treat diabetes, physicians prescribe insulin or other medications to decrease the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. If a person takes too much insulin or doesn't have enough sugar in the bloodstream before taking insulin, then the blood glucose level falls, and a hypoglycemic episode occurs.

Other causes of hypoglycemic events include:

  • Exercise: exercise uses up energy, which uses up glucose, which can cause a decrease in a person's blood sugar.
  • Not eating meals: our bodies need sugar from carbohydrates and other foods to make glucose. If a person doesn't eat a meal, then the person is more at risk of not having enough glucose.
  • Illness: people who are sick often do not eat as much food as normal. Less food equals less sugar, which can lead to a low level of glucose.
  • Drinking alcohol: alcohol, especially when taken without food, can make it hard for your body to release stored glucose back into the bloodstream; therefore, too much alcohol can cause a low blood glucose level.
  • After eating a meal: sometimes when a person eats, their body produces too much insulin, and the glucose level falls.

People with diabetes are more likely to have a hypoglycemic event from one of these causes listed. Let's visit our story about Chris again. Before Chris went to practice, he ate a cheeseburger and gave himself a dose of insulin to compensate for the sugar that would be in his body from the meal. Unfortunately, Chris didn't consider that his body would be working hard during practice, using up energy, and needing a higher level of glucose. When Chris started exercising, his glucose level plummeted, and he had a hypoglycemic event.

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