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Feeling woozy?

You skip a meal, and a few hours later you’re cranky, hungry and can’t focus. But if you feel dizzy, weak and shaky, you may have hypoglycemia, or abnormally low blood sugar.

What is hypoglycemia?

Just like your car needs gas, your body needs fuel. That fuel comes by way of glucose, which your body gets mainly from breaking down carbohydrates. Whatever it doesn’t use, it stores in the liver. When your body doesn’t have enough glucose in its system, it sends a message to your liver to release more. For some people, that message is never relayed. They end up feeling hungry, shaky, dizzy, confused, weak or anxious or have difficulty speaking and may even lose consciousness.

Hypoglycemia is commonly linked to diabetes. When blood sugar gets too low, drinking fruit juice or regular soda or sucking on hard candy can quickly raise it.

People who don’t have diabetes can have hypoglycemia. Fasting hypoglycemia hits between meals, especially before breakfast and after exercising. It can also be caused by:

  • medication
  • drinking too much alcohol without eating
  • anorexia, kidney disorders and other illnesses
  • tumors

Reactive hypoglycemia has the same symptoms, but it occurs after eating. Some researchers think it’s a reaction to the hormone epinephrine that your body produces. Others blame a deficiency in glucagon—a hormone that signals the body to release glucose. Gastric bypass surgery, enzyme deficiencies and other conditions can also cause reactive hypoglycemia.

Do I have it?

If your healthcare provider suspects hypoglycemia, he or she will take a series of blood samples to confirm it. If you have the condition, making changes to your diet or medication can help prevent future episodes.