12 Low Blood Sugar Symptoms to be Aware Of

Low blood sugar symptoms are common in people with diabetes. External factors, too, can increase a person’s risk of these symptoms.

A male asian student feeling the low blood sugar symptoms in class

Low blood sugar symptoms are prevalent in people who: 

  • Have experienced episodes of low blood sugar 
  • Are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, cognitive impairment, or kidney or heart disease 
  • Take insulin or other medications sulfonylureas and meglitinides to manage type 2 diabetes

Separately, a person with diabetes is likely to develop low blood sugar (also known as hypoglycaemia) during exercise. Babies that are born to diabetic women, too, can experience a significant drop in blood sugar levels at birth.

Reasons Behind Low Blood Sugar in People with Diabetes  

Insulin plays a central role in the occurrence of hypoglycaemia in people with diabetes. The pancreas produces this hormone to move glucose into cells. Subsequently, the cells store glucose the body’s main source of energy or use it to fuel aerobic and anaerobic cellular respiration.

Cellular respiration refers to a diversion of chemical energy in glucose into life-sustaining activities, and removal of carbon dioxide, waste products and water.

However, a lack of insulin can lead to glucose accumulating in the blood instead of being absorbed by cells. As a result, a person may be susceptible to diabetes symptoms.

It can also trigger complications like hypoglycaemia, which happens when: 

  • Glucose production is low 
  • Glucose is released into the bloodstream too slowly 
  • The body uses glucose up too quickly 
  • There’s an excess of insulin in the bloodstream  

People without diabetes can also be at an increased risk of hypoglycaemia if they: 

  • Are 65 years or older 
  • Consume alcoholic beverages  use prescription medications 
  • Experience chronic kidney or heart failure 
  • Lack cortisol, or growth or thyroid hormones 
  • Previously underwent surgery for weight loss 
  • Are diagnosed with insulinoma or sepsis

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), meanwhile, describes hypoglycaemia as a consumptive disease. Simply put, it arises from a deficiency in one of the organ systems in the body, also known as the zang-fu.

Insufficiency of blood, qi (vital life force), yin (passive energy) and yang (active energy) also constitutes the basic pathogenesis of this type of disease.

“This can often be attributed to many causes, with the most predominant being a deficiency of qi and blood in the Spleen and Stomach. It can provoke irregularities in the Heart and Liver systems, as well as the body’s spirit,” explains Eu Yan Sang Physician Peh Wei Jie. 

Man rubbing his eye with a finger as he holds a pair of spectacles in his right hand and mobile phone in his left
Blurred vision is a common symptom of hypoglycaemia.

Recognising Notable Low Blood Sugar Symptoms  

Generally, hypoglycaemia may induce mild to moderate symptoms, such as: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Fatigue 
  • Hunger 
  • A headache 
  • Dizziness, confusion or irritability 
  • Inability to see or speak clearly 
  • Muscles that shake or jitter 
  • Unsteady or rapid heartbeat 

Severe hypoglycaemia, on the other hand, will halt brain function, and prompt a seizure or loss of consciousness. It’s worth noting that it also requires immediate medical attention. 

Interestingly, a person’s blood sugar levels can also drop when they’re asleep. Consequently, they may present with physical and psychological symptoms, including: 

  • Profuse sweating 
  • Wails or nightmares 
  • Fatigue, confusion or irritability when they wake up 
A wooden dripper being lifted from a glass jar containing honey
A spoonful of honey can help modulate blood sugar levels.

Steps You Can Take to Keep Low Blood Sugar Symptoms in Check 

If you establish that your blood sugar levels are below 70 milligrammes (mg)/dL, it’s advisable for you to consume 15-20 grammes (g) of glucose or carbohydrates right away. It can come in the form of: 

  • A tablespoon of honey, sugar, or corn syrup 
  • Half a can of a carbonated beverage 
  • Half a cup of apple, grape, or cranberry juice 
  • One tube of glucose gel or four glucose tablets 

Then, wait 15 minutes before checking your blood sugar levels. If it’s still low, repeat this step until it’s regulated.

Role of Chinese Medicine in Managing Low Blood Sugar Symptoms

A collage of Qu Chi and Feng Long acupoints to help manage low blood sugar
Massaging these two acupressure points may help manage the symptoms of low blood sugar.

In TCM, binge drinking affects the release of glucose into the body. This can lead to a deficiency of Spleen qi and symptoms like hunger, confusion, and fainting. Moreover, these symptoms are common in people with diabetes if they use more than the suggested medication dose or have sudden changes in their diet or physical activity levels. 

People who are anxious, dizzy or confused may have deficiencies in the Heart and Spleen. People who slur and sweat excessively usually have phlegm-heat in the stomach and body. For these reasons, the consumption of herbal ingredients can boost qi and yin in the Heart or Spleen and clear phlegm heat.

Based on the patient’s current symptoms and diagnosis, herbs such as Astragalus (huang qi, 黄芪), jujube (da zao, 大枣) and Chinese Angelica (dang gui, 当归) can effectively alleviate the former disorder. Stimulation of the Qu Chi (LI 11, 曲池) and Feng Long (ST 40, 丰隆) acupoints on the Large Intestine and Stomach meridians can be beneficial for dispelling phlegm-heat.

The prevention of low blood sugar symptoms relates to effective control. Consuming a balanced diet is fundamental towards achieving this objective. TCM remedies can help address disorders that threaten to spike blood sugar levels. Do speak to a TCM practitioner to ascertain the safety of specific herbal ingredients for your body constitution.

References

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia). [Accessed 8 March 2022] 
  2. MedlinePlus. Low blood sugar. [Accessed 8 March 2022] 
  3. Acupuncture.com. Consumptive disease. [Accessed 8 March 2022] 

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