Hypoglycemia: A Dangerous Side Effect of Eating Disorders

Hypoglycemia is a medical term that refers to low blood sugar levels. Usually, this condition is considered a complication of type 1 diabetes. It isn't commonly associated with eating disorders, but some health care providers believe it isn't that uncommon at all.

In fact, some believe hypoglycemia might be the fatal blow for people suffering from some eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa.

Why Hypoglycemia Is So Dangerous

Whenever you eat anything, your body breaks down that food and converts it into fuel. Your liver breaks down some of that food into glucose, which your bloodstream absorbs. That glucose fuels your cells. The liver also synthesizes glycogen, which is a type of stored glucose that your body can use when it runs out of a fresh supply.

When your body is deprived of food, your liver can't produce glucose or glycogen. Blood glucose levels don't have to fall too far to be fatal. Vital organs are not able to function when your blood glucose supply is depleted.

In particular, the brain is at risk. In a healthy body that gets proper nutrition, the brain uses about 20 percent of the body's glucose supply to keep it operational. The brain can't run on protein or fats; it requires glucose. Since the brain is like the central processing unit that keeps all your other organs functioning, a lack of energy can result in fatal complications.

Hypoglycemia May Be Cause of Sudden Death

People with eating disorders, particularly anorexia, are at a high risk of suffering from sudden death—abrupt and unexpected deaths. Some sufferers seem fine, but then collapse and go into cardiac arrest. Others may go to sleep and not wake up the next morning.

Autopsies usually can't determine the cause of these sudden deaths, but cardiovascular complications are typically involved. Some doctors believe the root of the incident may be linked to hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

People suffering from hypoglycemia may feel confused, fatigued, or anxious. They may break out into a cold sweat, their vision may be blurred, or they may begin to shake. In more severe cases, a person may experience heart palpitations, seizures, or loss of consciousness. Anyone suffering from these types of symptoms should see a doctor immediately.

Unfortunately, some people don't experience any of these symptoms, and may not have any signs that anything is wrong until it's too late. This is especially true if a person begins to suffer from hypoglycemia when sleeping. Those struggling with eating disorders should not wait until symptoms show up; seek help before it's too late.

Sources: The Recovery Village, Gaudiani Clinic

Photo: Pexels

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