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What Is Reactive Hypoglycemia?

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While getting my annual physical exam, I told my doctor about some symptoms I've been experiencing for the past three years. I feel the need to eat every two to three hours or else I become hungry, develop a headache, and begin to feel faint. I also had two instances where my blood sugar level was below normal, even though I had just eaten two hours prior. My doctor told me I may have a condition called reactive hypoglycemia.

What is reactive hypoglycemia?

Reactive hypoglycemia occurs when your body's blood sugar level (BSL) falls too low a few hours after eating. Normal BSL is about 70-100mg/dL. The two BSL levels I had were 50 and 65. Experts do not fully understand why reactive hypoglycemia occurs, but some of the causes may include hormonal imbalance or, though less common, gastrointestinal surgery. My doctor believes my issue is related to a potential hormonal imbalance.

Is this a sign of diabetes?

No. Reactive hypoglycemia is one of two types of hypoglycemia that affects non-diabetics. The other is fasting hypoglycemia, which can have a number of causes including prolonged periods without food, hormonal imbalance, alcohol use, and certain illness like sepsis. I am not and have never been diagnosed with diabetes.

Symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia

The signs of reactive hypoglycemia are the same as for regular diabetic hypoglycemia. These include hunger, sweating, shakiness, dizziness, feeling sleepy, and weakness. It is also not uncommon for heat and higher temperatures to cause hypoglycemia.

Diagnosing reactive hypoglycemia

For a proper diagnosis of reactive hypoglycemia, a healthcare professional will need to review your signs and symptoms and test your blood sugar while you are experiencing signs of hypoglycemia. Blood sugar levels are retested after eating or drinking to see if they return to a normal range. I am meeting with an endocrinologist to confirm a potential diagnosis of reactive hypoglycemia.

Dealing with reactive hypoglycemia

Reactive hypoglycemia cannot be cured, but it can be controlled through dietary changes. My doctor advised me to eat five to six small meals a day to prevent feelings of hunger. Other adjustments in diet include:

  • Limiting simple carbohydrates like those found in candy, soda, cookies, and pies. If these are eaten, it is best to eat them with a meal to offset the effects of sugar
  • Limiting caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
  • Eating more lean protein, which also offsets the effects of sugar
  • Increasing fiber intake
  • Keeping healthy snacks (with protein and carbohydrates) on hand in case symptoms flare up

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