Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

Risks for People Who Don't Have Diabetes

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Non-diabetic hypoglycemia is a rare condition in which someone who does not have diabetes has low blood sugar. Non-diabetic hypoglycemia is usually diagnosed based on symptoms, blood sugar levels, and how your symptoms respond when you eat sugar.

Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood glucose level drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Uncommon without diabetes, this condition can be caused by a variety of factors, including medications, alcohol use, medical conditions, low levels of certain hormones, or insulin overproduction.

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause, but may include dietary changes, medication adjustments, prescription drugs, and, in severe cases, emergency care.

Symptoms of non-diabetic hypoglycemia can range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
Potential Causes of Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia - Medication bottle, spore (underlying illness), spikey levels going up (overproduction of insulin), reactive hypoglycemia, alcohol glass, spikey levels going down (hormonal deficiency), medicine bottle (insulin autoimmune syndrome) , a woman looks upset and holds a partially eaten pear with a bowl of food nearby

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

This article discusses the causes and symptoms associated with non-diabetic hypoglycemia. It also covers treatment options and prevention tips.

What Causes Hypoglycemia in a Non-Diabetic Individual?

Non-diabetic hypoglycemia causes may include:

  • Medications
  • Alcohol use
  • Underlying conditions
  • Low levels of certain hormones
  • Overproduction of insulin

Medication

Medications are the most common cause of hypoglycemia. The medications that can cause non-diabetic hypoglycemia include:

Alcohol Intake

Alcohol interferes with normal blood sugar regulation and can produce highs and lows that contribute to alcohol use disorder in some people.

If you notice that you’re more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others, you may be experiencing a hypoglycemic reaction. Passing out or dozing off after a couple of drinks could indicate hypoglycemia, which may leave you more vulnerable to the hazards of drinking.

Having a drink with a meal rather than on an empty stomach can help buffer some of alcohol’s effects on blood sugar. Choosing foods with fiber, protein, and healthy fats can help maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Underlying Illness

An underlying illness may contribute to low blood sugar levels. Renal failure, or kidney disease, can cause hypoglycemia in multiple ways, including:

  • Decreasing the kidney’s ability to clear insulin
  • Reducing the process of renal gluconeogenesis
  • Slowing down the metabolism of hypoglycemia-causing medications
  • Decreasing your appetite, causing you to eat less and making it more difficult to maintain adequate glucose levels

Because the liver is also central to maintaining balanced glucose levels, any disruption of liver function such as liver disease, hepatitis, or liver cancer can cause spontaneous hypoglycemia. A genetic condition called glycogen storage disease produces an enlarged liver and hypoglycemia caused by the inability to break down glycogen for energy.

Hormonal Deficiency

Aside from insulin, various hormones impact glucose regulation. Growth hormone from the pituitary gland and cortisol from the adrenal glands help maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Adrenal disorders, such as Addison’s disease, or pituitary disorders can cause hypoglycemia due to a lack of these blood sugar-stabilizing hormones.

The hormonal shifts in hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) may also lead to low blood sugars. This effect is seen in both children and adults with hypothyroidism and should be monitored as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Overproduction of Insulin

A rare pancreatic tumor called an insulinoma may produce more insulin than the body needs, causing hypoglycemia. Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes insulinomas to grow, but they don’t tend to spread to other parts of the body.

Assigned females between the ages of 40 and 60 are most commonly affected by insulinomas. It can take a while to get a correct diagnosis, but your symptoms should resolve once an insulinoma is removed.

Insulin overproduction can also be a problem for people who have undergone recent bariatric surgery. Your body may still be releasing the amount of insulin used during your pre-surgery eating habits. Your healthcare professional should warn you if this is a potential side effect of your procedure and give you guidance on treating it at home.

Insulin Autoimmune Syndrome

Insulin autoimmune syndrome is a rare condition where the body creates antibodies that attack insulin. When insulin is under attack, it has to work extra hard to regulate blood sugar levels.

The syndrome typically develops in adulthood. Long term, it may result in permanent damage to the pancreas, so getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment is vital.

Reactive Hypoglycemia

Reactive hypoglycemia, or postprandial hypoglycemia, typically happens within a few hours of eating a meal and is caused by insulin overproduction. The cause of reactive hypoglycemia in most people isn’t clear, but it may be related to a specific food that you ate or in variations of the timing of the food moving through the digestive tract.

Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia Symptoms

Early warning signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating

Serious Side Effects

When left untreated, severe hypoglycemia can lead to serious symptoms, like:

  • Jerky movements
  • Inability to eat or drink
  • Muscle weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Is Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia Dangerous?

Yes, it can lead to dangerous side effects. You should alert the people who you spend time with about your condition so they know what to do in an emergency and when to call 911. You can also wear a medical alert bracelet that notifies others of your condition.

How Is Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia Treated?

Treatment will vary depending on the cause of your hypoglycemia:

  • If you are experiencing these symptoms and suspect they could be related to your medications, reach out to your healthcare provider to see if an adjustment is needed.
  • If you suspect your hypoglycemia is due to an underlying illness, reach out to your healthcare provider for treatment options for your specific condition.
  • If you believe your symptoms are from poor food intake, try consuming complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and beans, more consistently to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
  • Eating every three hours and choosing balanced meals with fiber and protein can help prevent blood sugar highs and lows. To raise low blood sugar quickly, a 15-gram serving of carbohydrates through hard candy, dried fruit, or juice can be a short-term solution.
  • Doing an intense workout on an empty stomach can produce hypoglycemia that’s easy to fix. In this case, you can treat hypoglycemia at home with a sports drink or snack, and no further medical help is needed.
  • In severe cases, you may need to use glucagon, a prescription medication that is either inhaled through the nose or injected. Be sure those you spend the most time with know how to administer your medication and/or know when to get you emergency care.

Prevention

To help prevent non-diabetic hypoglycemia:

  • Speak with your healthcare provider about potential underlying conditions or medications that may be causing your hypoglycemia.
  • Be sure to eat meals regularly.
  • Carry snacks with you when you leave your house.
  • Try to incorporate complex carbs consistently into your diet.

A Word From Verywell

Non-diabetic hypoglycemia is usually a symptom of another health problem or lifestyle imbalance that should be addressed. Paying attention to how your body feels and communicating with your healthcare professional will help ensure that your body is able to work properly.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N
Anastasia, RDN, CD-N, is a writer and award-winning healthy lifestyle coach who specializes in transforming complex medical concepts into accessible health content.