Postprandial hypoglycemia is a type of hypoglycemia classified according to its timing. Here’s more on its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Postprandial hypoglycemia (also called reactive hypoglycemia), literally means low blood sugar after eating a meal. Normally, after eating, the blood sugar rises. But in this disorder, the blood sugar level is decreased to an abnormal level, wherein, the blood is deprived of its primary energy constituent, which is glucose. Reactive hypoglycemia is diagnosed through a postprandial glucose test, which is done two to four hours after a meal. Normal blood sugar level taken through the postprandial test ranges anywhere between 70-140 mg/dL (milligrams/deciliter). When this blood sugar reading comes below 70 mg/dL, it is a cause for worry. But if it comes below 55 mg/dL, then it is surely a case of postprandial hypoglycemia.
The hormone insulin secreted by the beta-cells of the pancreas is responsible for the passage of glucose across plasma membranes to the body cells. In lay terms, insulin helps in breaking down and lowering glucose levels. On the other hand, glucagon is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to help raise blood glucose levels. In the case of reactive hypoglycemia, either there is excessive insulin production which minimizes the blood glucose level, or glucagon production is affected, thereby ceasing to produce enough glucose to keep the blood sugar level normal. It occurs due to the following causes.
- Patients who have recently undergone gastric bypass surgery are mostly prone to postprandial hypoglycemia, as food tends to pass very quickly through the digestive system.
- Fasting before a meal. And if the glucose requirement may be huge to bring blood sugar level to normal, one meal may not satisfy the required glucose levels.
- Due to stress, a hormone called epinephrine (commonly known as adrenalin) is released, which triggers glucose production; but the person may be sensitive to epinephrine, causing decreased glucose production.
- Excessive medication in diabetic patients increasing the insulin effect in blood.
- Enzyme deficiency, particularly amylase deficiency, which helps digest carbohydrates and produce glucose.
- Liver diseases like hepatitis can prevent the liver from releasing glucose when required, or kidney diseases can also prevent the medication containing insulin from being thrown out, thus resulting in low blood sugar levels.
The symptoms do not differ much from the symptoms of routine hypoglycemia. It’s just that it is unusual to have low blood sugar after a meal. So, if you see any of the following symptoms after a meal, then make sure you call a doctor immediately, or take the necessary glucose dose.
- Hunger coupled with increased appetite
- Excessive heartbeat
- Cold skin
- Tingling of lips and fingertips
- Dizziness and drowsiness
- Trembling accompanied with difficulty in body movements
- Double or blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Mood swings
- Seizures with low body temperature
- If not treated immediately, a person may even slip into coma with life under threat
Given the wide consequences, it is advised that one should take necessary precautions to prevent it. Especially individuals with any diabetic history or those who have undergone any kind of surgery relating to the digestive system. In an emergency, for immediate relief from the above symptoms, eat or drink something providing you with an immediate supply of sugar. Something like soda, orange juice, sugar cubes or candy comes in handy. Otherwise, a special diet needs to be followed along with regular exercise. While undergoing reactive hypoglycemia treatment, it’s imperative that you eat snacks or have small meals every 3 hours, so that the glucose concentration in the blood doesn’t drop. Reactive hypoglycemia diet should contain lots of protein and fiber-rich foods like fish, meat, whole grain, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. You should particularly avoid starch-rich food like potatoes, corn, white rice, and try to stay away as far as possible from caffeine, alcohol, etc. Foods with low to medium glycemic index should be consumed, while avoiding foods with high glycemic index.
As clichéd as it may sound, proper diet and exercise are the perfect treatment and preventive mechanisms, not just postprandial hypoglycemia, but also for a host of other diseases. As important as it is to have sugar (read sweetness) in our life, it’s more significant to maintain normal sugar levels in our blood postprandial.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.