What is postprandial hypoglycemia?

Postprandial hypoglycemia is a drop in blood glucose that occurs after eating a meal. Also known as reactive hypoglycemia, this form of low blood sugar is commonly seen in people who have had an invasive procedure to alter their digestive system, such as gastric bypass surgery. Treatment for postprandial hypoglycemia generally depends on the severity of symptom presentation and usually involves restoring blood glucose to an appropriate level with the administration of a sugary substance, such as a soft drink or fruit juice.

In cases of reactive hypoglycemia, there is a drop in blood sugar levels after a meal. For whatever reason, insulin production after a meal spikes and introduces too much of the hormone into the bloodstream. The dispersal of glucose to the various cells of the body goes into overdrive, depleting the amount of available blood sugar. The liver cannot compensate for glucose depletion, leading to a continuous flow of insulin in a system that does not require its mediation. The result is excess insulin in a system that has no glucose for the hormone to regulate, leaving the body in a hypoglycemic state.

People most often develop postprandial hypoglycemia when their digestive function has been interrupted due to surgery. In some situations, individuals may develop this form of hypoglycemia in response to impaired glucose tolerance or receiving overmedication for an existing diabetic condition. Inappropriate administration of glucose-lowering therapy can also trigger an episode of postprandial hypoglycemia.

Postprandial hypoglycemia is a progressive condition that is fairly easy to diagnose, as the trigger for the drop in blood sugar is usually obvious. Knowing that a postprandial hypoglycemic episode is unlikely to occur while sitting in the doctor's office, some people will choose to keep a written record of their experiences so they can accurately describe them during a consultation. A battery of blood tests is usually administered to assess an individual's blood glucose levels over an extended period of time. Some situations may require the individual to fast prior to testing so an accurate reading can be taken.

People with postprandial hypoglycemia usually have symptoms that are characteristic of any other form of hypoglycemia. The most common symptoms include feelings of hunger, lethargy, and physical weakness. Symptomatic individuals may also experience profuse sweating, elevated heart rate, and tremors during an episode of hypoglycemia.

As the body begins the digestion process, it is not uncommon for people with this condition to suddenly appear pale or experience blurred vision or anxiety. More severe symptom presentations may include cognitive problems and erratic or uncharacteristic behaviors. If symptoms are ignored and allowed to progress, people with hypoglycemia may experience a seizure or lose consciousness; Both of these situations have the potential to be life-threatening.

As with any hypoglycemic condition, treatment focuses on raising the individual's blood glucose levels to a stable, normal level. Sugary foods or drinks, such as candy, soda, or fruit juice, can often be given to the person. People with recurrent episodes of postprandial hypoglycemia should generally implement dietary changes to help prevent future incidents. Many people with hypoglycemia are encouraged to work closely with a dietitian to devise a meal plan that is conducive to promoting health and dietary balance, while also preventing recurring symptoms of postprandial hypoglycemia. Severe presentations of this condition may require the administration of injected glucagon to stabilize blood glucose levels.

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