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What is Insulin Shock?

Insulin shock, also known as hypoglycemia, is a serious medical condition that occurs when glucose levels in the blood become unusually low. A condition often associated with diabetes, hypoglycemia may be caused by a variety of contributing factors. Treatment for insulin shock generally involves regulating blood sugar levels and determining the underlying cause for symptom onset. If left untreated, hypoglycemia may lead to potentially life-threatening conditions including unconsciousness, coma, and death.

Hypoglycemia may often be considered an indicator or precursor to a more serious health issue. Resulting from excessively low blood sugar levels, hypoglycemia occurs when proper blood sugar production, assimilation, and storage are disrupted. Insulin shock commonly occurs when individuals go without eating for a period of time, or fast, but may also result from excessive insulin production during digestion. Stages of blood sugar regulation may become impaired if the individual’s bloodstream is inundated with excessive insulin, the body exhausts glucose too rapidly, or if naturally produced glucose is introduced into the bloodstream too slowly.

During digestion, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream to regulate sugar levels and prevent them from becoming too high. Additionally, the pancreatic-produced hormone glucagon is employed to communicate directly with the liver and regulate the storage and re-introduction of glucose to the bloodstream. The liver's ability to manage glucose is essential to the regulation of blood sugar levels between meals.

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Individuals who are not diabetic may develop hypoglycemia in response to a variety of contributing factors. Those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol may experience impaired liver function, which, in turn, prevents the proper storage and release of glucose into the bloodstream. Certain disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and hepatitis, may contribute to hypoglycemic onset. Additional elements that may cause insulin shock include the presence of pancreatic tumors, use of certain prescription medications, and adrenal deficiencies.

There are various signs and symptoms associated with hypoglycemia that may adversely affect brain function. Individuals with insulin shock may become confused, exhibit unusual behaviors, or lose consciousness. Impaired vision is also a common manifestation of hypoglycemia that may cause one to have double or blurred vision. Additional signs of hypoglycemia may include nervousness or anxiety, heart arrhythmias, and sweating.

To diagnose insulin shock, physicians utilize a standardized diagnostic test to assess an individual’s symptoms in addition to evaluating his or her medical history and conducting a physical examination. Known as Whipple's triad, the testing method initially requires an individual to fast overnight before the test is administered to induce the symptom manifestation and allow for an easier diagnosis. While the individual is symptomatic, his or her blood may be drawn for analysis. During the final stage of testing, a monitoring of symptoms may occur as the individual’s glucose levels are raised. If symptoms subside when blood glucose levels are raised, a diagnosis of hypoglycemia is confirmed.

Treatment for hypoglycemia is generally twofold in approach. Initial treatment is dependent on the individual’s symptoms and involves raising blood sugar levels. In most cases, the consumption of food or a beverage containing sugar is enough to raise glucose levels enough to alleviate symptoms. Individuals experiencing more severe symptoms, such as impaired consciousness, may require the intravenous administration of glucose to regulate sugar levels. Once glucose levels are regulated, it may be necessary to determine the underlying cause of the insulin shock.

Secondary medical conditions that contribute to low blood sugar levels may be treated with medication or require a more intricate treatment approach. If the condition is related to the use of prescription medication, the individual’s dosage may be adjusted or the drug may be substituted with a different medication. Individuals who experience hypoglycemia due to an underlying medical condition may undergo evaluation to confirm a diagnosis, determine the proper course of treatment to manage the condition, and take steps to prevent the possibility of future insulin shock.

Hypoglycemia is a condition that may be prevented through proactive measures. Individuals who are diabetic should adhere to their established treatment plan. Those who are not diabetic, but may be experiencing mild symptoms, may prevent glucose level fluctuation by consuming frequent, small meals during the day and seek medical advice regarding the cause of his or her recurrent symptoms.

If symptoms of hypoglycemia are left untreated, the individual may develop potentially life-threatening complications. Individuals with extremely low blood glucose levels may lose consciousness or experience seizures. Prolonged hypoglycemic symptoms that remain untreated may ultimately result in coma or death.

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