Are You At Risk for Severe Lows?
You may have felt the rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shaking that are typical of a bout of low blood glucose, or hypoglycemia. Hopefully you grabbed four glucose tablets or a package of glucose gel and moved on with your day. But for people who experience severe hypoglycemia, a low blood glucose level that requires the help of another, the situation can turn dangerous quickly, says Ram Pathak, MD, FACE, FACP, chair of the Department of Endocrinology and director of the Diabetes Education Program at Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin.
In a study, Pathak and his colleagues examined the risks of severe hypoglycemia in nearly 1 million people with diabetes who were treated in a hospital for the condition between 2005 and 2011. They found that participants with certain complications, such as kidney and heart disease, had greater rates of severe hypoglycemia than participants without those conditions. The study findings, published in the March 2016 issue of Diabetes Care, also suggest that people with diabetes may experience episodes of severe hypoglycemia more frequently than previously thought.
What to KnowAbout Lows
- Groups at risk: People with type 1, older adults, insulin and sulfonylurea users, and individuals with diabetes plus one or more conditions, such as congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and/or heart disease, are at the highest risk for severe hypoglycemic events.
- Medications Matter: On insulin or a sulfonylurea? These medications put you at risk for hypoglycemia because they work by raising insulin levels. Conditions such as kidney disease can alter how the body processes medications, which may affect glucose control. And people who take certain beta blockers to treat high blood pressure may be more likely to experience severe hypoglycemia because the meds can blunt the symptoms of a low.
- Age Issues: Severe hypoglycemia can have more serious health consequences for older individuals. Elderly people who become dizzy from low blood glucose are at risk for falls and fractures. Hypoglycemia also increases their risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Another concern: Cognitive issues, such as slower thought processes, may keep older adults who live alone from quickly treating a low.
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