What Is Reactive Hypoglycemia?
I recently had a 5-hour glucose test to find out if I have reactive hypoglycemia, which was stopped early due to my glucose levels dropping below their safety limit. The fact that it had to be stopped, kind of proves that I must have reactive hypoglycemia.
However, even though this happened at the start of September, I still don’t have my official results back with my diagnosis (even though I’ve been chasing this up for weeks). So while I wait for my diagnosis to be officially confirmed, I thought in the meantime I’d share with my readers what reactive hypoglycemia is.
I’d never heard of reactive hypoglycemia until I had my appointment with the endocrine team, after my My Short Synacthen Test (SST). I’d only ever heard of the normal hypoglycemia until that point, a few months ago.
Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get to the topic at hand, what is reactive hypoglycemia?
Blood Sugar Regulation
First, let’s look at the basics of the condition. Our bodies need glucose to function, this is our main source of energy, especially for our brains. We get glucose through our bodies breaking down carbohydrates from the foods we consume, such as bread, fruit, pasta, and potatoes.
Most of you will be aware of how people with diabetes need insulin in order to function. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that allows the glucose in our bloodstream to enter the cells, where the cells can then put it to use. What you might not be aware of is that extra glucose is stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen (Mayo Clinic).
Without insulin, the glucose can’t be absorbed by the cells, which can result in your blood glucose levels becoming too high. This is a problem for diabetics because consistently high glucose levels in your blood will lead to damage to your blood vessels, your heart, your eyes, your feet, your kidneys, and cause nerve damage (Diabetes UK).
As part of our bodies intricate homeostasis system, there’s another hormone our pancreas can release: glucagon. Insulin and glucagon work together to keep our bodies blood sugar levels within an optimal range (Medical News Today).
When your blood sugar levels drop too low (e.g. due to not eating in a long time) your pancreas releases glucagon. This will lead to the stored glycogen being converted back into glucose to raise your blood sugar level back to within its optimal range until you eat again (Mayo Clinic).
Glucagon is also released when our bodies demand more glucose than normal. For example, in response to your fight or flight response being activated or due to doing exercise, such as hitting the gym for a 2-hour session. It can also trigger fat being broken down into fatty acids for use as fuel by our cells as well (Diabetes.co.uk).
Hypos After Eating: Reactive Hypoglycemia
Reactive hypoglycemia is a term used for recurrent drops in blood sugar that typically happens within 4 hours of eating (Diabetes.co.uk). This is typically known as a hypo. Hence why I was sent for a 5-hour glucose test.
Thus, eating is likely to cause the overproduction of insulin, the results of which are a drop in the bodies blood glucose levels. For whatever reason, the low blood sugar isn’t able to be raised back to optimal levels on its own. Thus, someone suffering from a hypo will have to raise their levels by eating.
Causes Of Reactive Hypoglycemia
One of the main causes of reactive hypoglycemia is taking too much diabetic medication, causing your body to have too much insulin in the blood. The results of which cause your blood sugar levels to drop too much.
However, for people like me who aren’t diabetic, there often isn’t a concrete reason as to why we have the condition.
But here is a list of a few known causes:
- The suffer could have insulin hypersensitivity.
- The suffer could produce too much insulin.
- They could have inherited a fructose intolerance (Verywell Health).
- They could have a deficiency in glucagon production.
- They could have a rare enzyme deficiency (WebMD).
- They could have an adrenal or pituitary gland disorder, which would affect the hormones that control glucose production (Medical News Today).
- They might have Insulinoma – a rare, usually benign tumour (Verywell Health).
- It could be the result of bariatric surgery, such as a gastric bypass (Today’s Dietitian).
- Too much glucose may be used up by a benign tumour (Diabetes.co.uk).
- It could be a sign of another disease or condition which arises spontaneously (Medscape).
- But like I said, there might not even be a knowable cause (Verywell Health).
Signs And Symptoms Of Reactive Hypoglycemia
- Foggy thinking.
- Dizzy spells.
- A pale face.
- Fatigue, weakness, triedness, and sleepiness.
- Feeling hungery more frequentcly .
- Sleeping problems.
- Tingling sensation in and around the mouth.
- Changes in behavior.
- Poor concentration.
- Slurred speech.
- Clumsy movements.
- Blurry or double vision.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Heart palpitations.
My 5 hours glucose test was done to be able to diagnose me with reactive hypoglycemia. During the test, I had blood tests every 30 minutes to measure my blood glucose levels, as well as monitor my insulin levels, after having an initial glucose drink at the start of the test. This allowed them to see if my glucose levels would stabilise, raise back to its optimal level, or keep dropping.
My test had to be stopped early because my glucose levels dropped below there safety line. I wanted to continue because I was barely feeling any symptoms at all, but they wouldn’t allow it.
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Reactive Hypoglycemia 5 Hour Test So I had my 5 hour glucose test today, and this was the orange glucose drink I had to neck after my first blood test. I then had to have a blood test every half hour. This was meant to happen for the full 5 hours, but after 3 and a half hours, they stopped the test because my glucose dropped past the hospitals safe limit. The weird thing is, I didn't even feel that bad, I was having very mild symptoms and tried to get them to carry on, just so I, and they, could see how bad it can get. However, what I got instead was a parental style telling off for regularly letting my symptoms getting worse than I currently was before eating ha ha ha. #Hypoglycemia #Health #Diabetes #Diabetic #Food
Treatment very much depends on if there’s a knowable cause. If there is, then treating that underlying cause should treat your reactive hypoglycemia. For example, if the cause of your reactive hypoglycemia is a tumour, like an insulinoma, then it’s removal should stop you from having any more reactive hypoglycemia hypos.
Otherwise, it’s less treatment, and more symptom management and avoidance.
Symptom Management Of Reactive Hypoglycemia
There are a few things you can do if you’re having a hypo to start feeling more normal.
Rule Of 15
One such thing that you could do is to follow the “Rule of 15”. It’s a simple rule where you should consume 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates, then wait 15 minutes. If you don’t feel better after 15 minutes, then check your blood sugar levels and consume a further 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates. Repeat the cycle until your levels are within your bodies homeostatic optimal blood glucose range (Diabetes Self-Management).
- Half a banana (Verywell Health).
- 3–4 glucose tablets (MedlinePlus).
- Small carton of pure fruit juice (Diabetes UK).
- Soft drink, usually 4–6 ounces or 165 millilitres (Verywell Health).
- 1 dose of glucose gel (Diabetes Self-Management).
- 5 jelly babies (Diabetes UK).
- 1 tablespoon of honey (American Diabetes Association).
- 1 tablespoon of sugar (Diabetes Self-Management).
- 1 tablespoon of syrup (American Diabetes Association).
Life Styles Changes
- Rather than eating the standard 3 large meals, eat small meals every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day instead (that’s what I was told after my 5-hour glucose test).
- Try to eat 5-10 grams of soluble fibre per day (HealthLink BC).
- Oatmeal, oat bran and barley.
- Dried peas, beans and lentils.
- Vegetables and fruits with their skin.
- Try to eat foods that feature in the low category of the glycemic index score.
- This one hurts, avoid drinking beer because they’re a carb-heavy drink. If you drink spirits, avoid mixing them with sugary soft drinks and juices. Plus, try to eat when you’re drinking (HealthLink BC).
- Exercise regularly.
Examples Of Carb Free Foods – Diabetes UK
Meat (e.g. beef, lamb, pork, fowl, and fish).
Lard, ghee, margarine, and oils (e.g. olive oil and coconut oil).
Cheeses and butter.
Asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, mushrooms (a fungus not a vegetable), and avocado.
Water, sugar-free drinks, diet drinks, diet squashes, black tea, and coffee.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with reactive hypoglycemia, hypos, and diabetes in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up to my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications of new posts by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom left corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.