By Emily McLaughlin
Hi, I’m Emily and I have hypoglycemia.
The past several months have been a whirlwind of crazy, for me… but things are finally starting to get a little more normal. If you have been around, you probably know exactly what I am talking about. But, for those of you that are just stumbling upon this blog post… let me start at the beginning.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve run into problems with feeling weak, light-headed and sluggish. These feelings would mostly emerge if I hadn’t eaten in a while, or maybe if I ate too much. I also noticed that my fainting spells were associated with my level of activity on a given day.
In the past six months, three dramatic fainting spells led doctors to look into what might be wrong with me. While the tests aren’t over, I have finally received a preliminary diagnosis… hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too low. In a normal, healthy person, glucose levels are regulated by the body throughout the day–regardless of eating habits. For me, and many others, this is not the case.
I had fainted in the past, a few times in my childhood and maybe once or twice in high school, but each incident was far less dramatic than my last three. First, I was in class on a December morning. I had my usual oatmeal breakfast that morning, but was still dealing a little meh after. In class, the room was hot and I was feeling dizzy and… well… I lost consciousness mid-lecture. An ambulance ride and few tests later… no diagnosis. Instead, the doctors just assumed that I had some kind of eating disorder or drank too much the night before–neither were the case. My next fainting spell was while on vacation in Florida, and the next was at my new, grown-up job. #embarrassing
Hypoglycemia is usually caused by something else, and because I am not diabetic… the tests continue. Hypoglycemia in people without diabetes is much less common–but some of the possible causes are:
- Medications. Taking someone else’s oral diabetes medication accidentally is a possible cause of hypoglycemia. Other medications may cause hypoglycemia, especially in children or in people with kidney failure. One example is quinine, which is used to treat malaria.
- Excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking heavily without eating can block your liver from releasing stored glucose into your bloodstream, causing hypoglycemia.
- Some critical illnesses. Severe illnesses of the liver, such as severe hepatitis, can cause hypoglycemia. Disorders of the kidney, which can keep your body from properly excreting medications, can affect glucose levels due to a buildup of those medications. Long-term starvation, as may occur in the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, can result in the depletion of substances your body needs in gluconeogenesis, causing hypoglycemia.
- Insulin overproduction. A rare tumor of the pancreas (insulinoma) may cause overproduction of insulin, resulting in hypoglycemia. Other tumors may result in excessive production of insulin-like substances. Or the tumors themselves may use up too much glucose. Enlargement of beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin (nesidioblastosis) may result in excessive insulin release, causing hypoglycemia. People who’ve undergone gastric bypass surgery are at risk of this condition.
- Endocrine deficiencies. Certain disorders of the adrenal glands and the pituitary gland can result in a deficiency of key hormones that regulate glucose production. Children with these disorders are more prone to hypoglycemia than are adults.
Mostly of these seem unlikely for me, so for now… I have emergency glucose tablets just in case I start to feel symptoms of hypoglycemia. Also, I started working more sugars and carbs into my diet. I limit my alcohol and caffeine consumption, especially if I haven’t eaten in a while because those two things make me feel off. Lastly, I try to eat a meal or snack every 2 to 3 hours since that is when my sugars typically start to dip.
Questions? Advice? I’d love to hear it all. Also, check out Cassie’s 5 tips for those with hypoglycemia!