Hypoglycemia describes low blood sugar levels. While many people associate it with diabetes, many conditions can cause hypoglycemia. Often, these conditions affect how the body uses insulin.

Blood glucose, or blood sugar, is the main sugar present in the blood. It is the body’s primary source of energy. The body carefully regulates blood sugar levels to keep them within healthy ranges. However, certain health conditions can cause blood sugar levels to go too high or too low.

Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar levels are too low. Low blood sugar levels typically relate to diabetes. However, many rare conditions can also cause a person to experience hypoglycemia.

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Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar levels drop too low. Typically, hypoglycemia is when blood glucose levels are less than 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). However, this may vary slightly between people.

When blood sugar levels are too low, people may experience various symptoms. These can include:

  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • confusion or irritability
  • hunger
  • shaking
  • a fast heartbeat
  • nervousness or anxiety

Hypoglycemia is a common symptom of diabetes. This is particularly true in individuals who use insulin to help manage their diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose in the blood to enter cells, which provides them with the energy to function.

Some people with diabetes may need to inject insulin to lower their blood sugar levels to a suitable range. However, if they inject too much insulin or it works too quickly, they may experience a hypoglycemic episode.

Although most people associate hypoglycemia with diabetes, other conditions can also affect how the body regulates blood glucose and result in low blood sugar levels.

Insulinoma describes a small tumor in the pancreas. The pancreas is a glandular organ in the abdomen, and one of its main functions is producing insulin.

Typically, when blood sugar levels decrease, the pancreas stops producing insulin to ensure blood sugars stay within a healthy range.

However, the characteristic feature of an insulinoma is the hypersecretion of insulin. As insulinomas cause the pancreas to secrete too much insulin, blood glucose can drop to seriously low levels.

Hypopituitarism is a rare condition affecting the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production.

The pituitary gland is a small gland that plays a major role in regulating vital body functions. It is known as the “master gland,” as it controls the activity of most other hormone-secreting glands.

This includes regulating cortisol production. Some people may refer to cortisol as the “stress hormone.” It often counterbalances the action of insulin. As such, symptoms of hypopituitarism can include hypoglycemia due to low cortisol levels.

Insulin autoimmune syndrome (IAS), or Hirata’s disease, is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body produces autoantibodies to insulin. Autoantibodies occur when the immune system produces an antibody that mistakenly targets a person’s own proteins.

People with IAS produce antibodies that attack and bind to insulin, forming complexes. Eventually, insulin releases from these complexes, irrespective of blood sugar levels, causing the level of blood sugar to become too low.

Severe insulin resistance syndromes are a group of rare conditions that often involve insulin resistance and metabolic problems that can manifest in a variety of symptoms, including hypoglycemia.

Donohue syndrome, or leprechaunism, is a rare condition that occurs due to a gene variation in the INSR gene. This gene provides instructions for making the insulin receptor protein. As a result, a person develops extreme insulin resistance, meaning they cannot use the hormone effectively.

Similarly, other conditions such as Rabson-Mendenhall and type A insulin resistance syndrome, also occur due to problems using insulin.

As such, people with severe insulin resistance syndromes may experience hypoglycemia after periods of not eating.

Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) deficiency is a rare metabolic condition that occurs due to genetic variations in the PCK1 or PCK2 genes. These gene alterations result in a reduced amount or absence of the PEPCK enzyme.

Typically, this gene converts proteins and fats into glucose, which the body can use as energy during periods of fasting or intense exercise. This process is known as gluconeogenesis, which is why a PEPCK deficiency is known as a gluconeogenesis disorder.

The main symptom of this condition is very low blood sugar levels during periods of insufficient glucose intake.

Bariatric surgery is the medical term for weight loss surgery. There are many types of bariatric surgery, such as gastric bands and a gastric bypass. Due to potential changes in how the body may process food following surgery, hypoglycemia is a common complication of bariatric surgery.

Read on to learn more about hypoglycemia and bariatric surgery.

Some people with insulin-dependent diabetes may be suitable for a pancreas transplant. This surgery involves a person receiving a healthy insulin-producing pancreas from a donor. However, it is not a routine surgery due to its potential risks.

Although it is a rare complication, some people may experience hypoglycemia following a pancreas transplant.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a common symptom of diabetes, but it can also occur with other conditions.

Typically, these other conditions affect how the body uses insulin. Examples include insulinomas, hypopituitarism, insulin autoimmune syndrome, severe insulin resistance syndromes, and PEPCK deficiency.