Idiopathic postprandial syndrome (IPS) occurs when a person experiences low blood sugar symptoms even though their blood sugar is within a healthy range.

People experience these symptoms within hours of eating, and researchers are unclear what causes it to happen.

The term idiopathic relates to a condition that develops from an unknown cause, and postprandial means symptoms that occur after eating.

This article examines IPS and its causes. It also discusses potential treatments for IPS and when to contact a doctor.

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IPS is a condition with similar symptoms to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels. However, people with IPS do not have the low sugar levels typical of hypoglycemia.

Many people associate low blood sugar levels with diabetes. However, people can experience non-diabetic hypoglycemia, which means a person has low blood sugar without diabetes.

Diabetes and non-diabetic hypoglycemia present with a clinically low blood sugar level of 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less, which IPS does not.

IPS differs from hypoglycemia in the following ways:

  • People with IPS will likely have normal blood sugar levels between 80–130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). People with diabetic or non-diabetic hypoglycemia have blood sugar levels lower than 70 mg/dl.
  • IPS may disrupt daily living but is unlikely to cause long-term complications. Hypoglycemia can lead to life threatening conditions, including long-term damage to the nervous system and can increase the risk of heart attacks.

IPS symptoms are similar to hypoglycemia but typically less severe and only occur after a meal.

Symptoms of IPS include:

IPS is an idiopathic condition, which means that researchers do not yet know what causes it, and research is ongoing.

Anecdotal evidence suggests possible triggers for IPS may include:

  • the pancreas producing excessive insulin after a meal
  • the body being sensitive to insulin
  • consuming refined carbohydrates or foods high on the glycemic index
  • drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • the body absorbing carbohydrates too quickly
  • having a blood glucose level in the lower levels of the normal range
  • having a higher blood glucose level that rapidly drops while remaining in the normal range
  • conditions affecting the renal system
  • experiencing stress or anxiety
  • the body releasing catecholamine hormones in response to stress

Many people with IPS may not require medical treatment. Instead, a doctor may recommend they modify their diet to reduce the possibility of experiencing IPS symptoms.

The dietary recommendations may include:

  • consuming more lean proteins, such as chicken breast, beans, peas, and lentils
  • eating high fiber foods, such as broccoli, apples, and buckwheat
  • consuming healthy fats, such as avocado, chia seeds, and eggs
  • following a grazing diet, which involves eating small meals regularly throughout the day with no more than 3 hours between meals
  • avoiding large meals
  • limiting foods or beverages that are high on the glycemic indexes
  • limiting refined carbohydrates
  • limiting alcohol intake

If dietary changes do not relieve symptoms, a doctor may recommend certain medications, such as alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (AGIs).

AGIs help delay the absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine, which lowers postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels.

A 2012 review article notes that using AGIs may help control blood glucose levels in people with IPS and reduce symptoms.

However, data on the effectiveness of these medications for treating IPS is scarce, and more research is necessary to determine if they are helpful and safe.

If a person frequently experiences hypoglycemia symptoms after eating, they should speak with a doctor. A doctor will ask questions about symptoms and take a medical history. A doctor can help to diagnose if a person has IPS or another condition.

If a healthcare professional suspects IPS, they may suggest making dietary changes or prescribe medications such as AGIs.

IPS is a condition where a person experiences symptoms of hypoglycemia but with normal blood sugar levels.

People may confuse IPS with other conditions with similar symptoms, but it is a different condition.

It is unclear why IPS happens and why it occurs after a meal. The condition appears to have no link with low blood glucose.

As researchers do not yet know the cause of IPS, there are not many treatment options. At present, a doctor may suggest dietary changes or medication to slow down the body’s absorption of carbohydrates.