What Is Nondiabetic Hypoglycemia?

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When an individual has hypoglycemia—which is a blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL—it's usually connected to diabetes, but it is possible to have nondiabetic hypoglycemia.

When this happens, the blood sugar is still extremely low, but some of the issues that could occur are not as extreme because the person is not diabetic.

person testing their blood sugar

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What Is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia means a person has an abnormally low blood glucose level. This is also known as a low blood sugar level.

The brain depends on blood sugar as its main source of energy and if the levels are low, the brain can’t function properly. When hypoglycemia triggers brain function, it can cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Other neurological symptoms

Hypoglycemia also interferes with the release of body hormones, including two hormones that the brain depends on to increase blood sugar levels:

The release of these hormones is known to cause:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hunger
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors

Although hypoglycemia is common in individuals who have diabetes, there are individuals who are nondiabetic that can have hypoglycemia.

Types of Nondiabetic Hypoglycemia

There are two types of nondiabetic hypoglycemia:

  • Reactive hypoglycemia: This can happen within a few hours of eating a meal.
  • Fasting hypoglycemia: This can be related to disease and other lifestyle factors.

Some of the conditions that are related to nondiabetic hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Cancers, specifically liver cancer
  • Severe liver disease
  • A pancreatic tumor
  • Overdose of aspirin
  • Insulin use by an individual who doesn’t have diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal surgery that removes some part of the stomach. This type of surgery can change the normal relationship between insulin release and digestion
  • A deficiency of cortisol from the adrenal gland or the pituitary gland. These hormones normalize blood sugar.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

 Some of the symptoms of hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Anxious
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness
  • Perspiration
  • Anxious
  • Confused
  • Dizzy
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritable

It is important to contact a healthcare professional if these symptoms are presented.

common hypoglycemia symptoms

Verywell / Laura Porter

Diagnosis

Diagnosis for nondiabetic hypoglycemia is conducted by a doctor. They will:

  • Review symptoms
  • Check blood glucose level
  • Look at the risk for possible diabetes
  • Perform a physical exam
how hypoglycemia is diagnosed

Verywell / Laura Porter

Although the blood glucose level is an important part of the exam, it doesn’t give the full diagnosis.

The doctor will most likely order other tests based on the symptoms presented. Typically, a blood test is given to look at insulin levels, cortisol levels, and liver function.

To diagnose reactive hypoglycemia, the doctor may order a mixed-meal tolerance test. This drink is known to cause the body to make more insulin and raise blood glucose.

The liquid substance contains fats, sugars, and proteins. Once this is consumed, the blood glucose level is checked several times over a five-hour span. The doctor may also want the individual to use a continuous glucose monitoring device. To diagnose fasting hypoglycemia, the blood glucose should be checked every few hours while the individual is fasting over a few days.

Treatment

Treating nondiabetic hypoglycemia depends on the specific cause of the condition.

If an individual is on a medication that is causing hypoglycemia, a conversation with their doctor to change the medication is necessary. Depending on why they are taking the medicine is a factor. It is important to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the best plan and outcome.

Other factors could be dietary. Working with a doctor and/or a dietitian to help with nutrition options is helpful. They can create a plan that will give a balanced diet tailored to the need of the person.

Progression to Diabetes

A diagnosis of diabetes can be life-changing. If an individual is hypoglycemic, it is important to keep an eye on blood sugar, eat a properly balanced diet, and exercise regularly to avoid diabetes. Working closely with the doctor can help manage the condition.

A Word From Verywell

If you have any symptoms of nondiabetic hypoglycemia, it is important to call your medical professional. They can help you determine a diagnosis and give you options for treatment and preventative measures as it relates to diabetes.

Although some nondiabetic hypoglycemia symptoms can look familiar, it is important that you pay attention and speak with a healthcare provider. Depending on your specific lifestyle and condition, they can help you create a plan that works best for your lifestyle.

 

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  1. Harvard Health. Hypoglycemia. Updated June 2019.

  2. Margaret Eckert-Norton, PhD, Susan Kirk, MD. Non-diabetic hypoglycemiaThe Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 98, Issue 10, 1 October 2013, Pages 39A–40A. doi:10.1210/jc.2013-v98i10.39A