Skip to Content

Can you suffer from hypoglycemia and not be diabetic?

Quick Answer

Yes, it is possible to suffer from hypoglycemia without having diabetes. Hypoglycemia is simply defined as low blood sugar levels. While hypoglycemia is common in people with diabetes, especially those using insulin, it can occur in non-diabetics as well. Some potential causes of hypoglycemia in non-diabetics include certain medications, critical illnesses, hormonal disorders, kidney disorders, liver disease, excessive alcohol consumption, and more. If symptoms of hypoglycemia develop, it is important to consume some quick-acting carbohydrates and follow up with a doctor to investigate the underlying cause. With proper treatment, recurrent hypoglycemia can often be prevented in non-diabetic individuals.

What is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia refers to an abnormally low level of glucose or sugar in the blood. Normal blood sugar levels are around 70 to 99 mg/dL when fasting, and less than 180 mg/dL after meals. Hypoglycemia is defined by blood glucose levels of less than 70 mg/dL.

Mild to moderate hypoglycemia causes symptoms like:

– Shakiness, anxiety, nervousness
– Sweating, chills
– Irritability, mood changes
– Hunger, nausea
– Tingling or numbness around the mouth
– Dizziness, weakness
– Blurred vision
– Palpitations, fast heart rate

Severe hypoglycemia may cause:

– Confusion, disorientation
– Slurred speech
– Lack of coordination
– Seizures
– Loss of consciousness

Signs and Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Mild to Moderate Severe
  • Shakiness, anxiety, nervousness
  • Sweating, chills
  • Irritability, mood changes
  • Hunger, nausea
  • Tingling or numbness around the mouth
  • Dizziness, weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Palpitations, fast heart rate
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Without treatment, severe hypoglycemia can potentially be life-threatening. Prompt treatment is essential whenever blood sugar drops too low.

What Causes Hypoglycemia in Non-Diabetics?

There are several potential causes of hypoglycemia in people without diabetes:


– Insulin or other diabetes medications, especially when taken accidentally by a non-diabetic
– Quinine and malaria medications
– Pentamidine used to treat pneumonia
– Sulfonylureas to treat heart disease or high blood pressure
– Aspirin or aspirin-containing drugs in overdose

Critical Illnesses

– Sepsis
– Heart attacks
– Severe infections
– Liver or kidney failure
– Inborn errors of metabolism in infants and children

Hormonal Deficiencies

– Adrenal insufficiency
– Hypopituitarism
– Growth hormone deficiency

Other Causes

– Prolonged fasting or malnutrition
– Bariatric surgery
– Alcohol abuse
– Tumors like insulinoma, leiomyoma, and more
– Significant liver or kidney disease
– Reactive hypoglycemia after meals

Unknown Causes

– Idiopathic postprandial syndrome
– Non-diabetic autonomic neuropathy

In many cases, a specific underlying cause cannot be identified. This is known as idiopathic hypoglycemia.

Is Hypoglycemia Less Serious in Non-Diabetics?

Hypoglycemia should always be taken seriously, even in people without diabetes. Although it may be less frequent, severe hypoglycemia can happen in non-diabetics and also requires emergency treatment.

In fact, one study found the mortality rate was higher for severe hypoglycemia in non-diabetics compared to diabetics. Reasons for this higher mortality risk may include:

– An underlying illness causing the hypoglycemia
– Delayed diagnosis since it is unexpected
– Less awareness of how to treat low blood sugar

Furthermore, recurrent episodes of moderate hypoglycemia can impact quality of life and place a non-diabetic individual at greater risk for accidents, falls, and cognitive impairment.

While less common, non-diabetics can develop hypoglycemia-related complications like brain damage and seizures. Prompt treatment is key. All cases of severe hypoglycemia require evaluation to determine the cause.

How is Hypoglycemia Treated in Non-Diabetics?

The urgent priority in treating hypoglycemia is to raise the blood sugar back to a safe level. Treatment involves:

– Consuming 15-20 grams of rapid-acting carbohydrates such as glucose tablets, sugar packets, juice or regular soda, hard candy, or honey.

– Retesting blood sugar after 15 minutes and repeating carbohydrate treatment if levels remain under 70 mg/dL.

– Once blood sugar returns to normal, eating a snack or meal containing complex carbs and protein can help stabilize levels.

If the hypoglycemia results in loss of consciousness, seizure, or inability to swallow, an emergency glucagon injection or IV glucose may be necessary. Seeking prompt emergency care is advised in severe cases of hypoglycemia.

After the blood sugar is normalized, it is important to identify and address the underlying cause of hypoglycemia. This may involve:

Medication Changes

Stopping medications that may be causing low blood sugar. Dose adjustments may be necessary.

Hormone Replacement

If adrenal insufficiency or hypopituitarism is diagnosed, hormone replacement therapy can help normalize blood sugar.

Dietary Changes

Eating smaller, more frequent meals with a balance of carbs and protein. Limiting refined carbs and spacing carbohydrates evenly over the day can help prevent reactive hypoglycemia. For some, a low glycemic diet helps minimize blood sugar spikes and drops.

Other Treatments

If an insulin-producing tumor is found, surgery may be done. Underlying conditions like kidney failure or liver disease will need appropriate treatment. Alcohol misuse needs to be addressed.

What are the Risk Factors for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia?

Certain individuals have a higher risk of experiencing low blood sugar episodes if they:

– Have kidney, liver, heart, or other organ failure
– Are critically ill or septic
– Take any of the medications known to cause hypoglycemia
– Have hormonal deficiencies
– Have tumors of the pancreas or other organs
– Abuse alcohol
– Have a history of gastric bypass or gut surgery
– Are elderly or malnourished

Infants and young children are also at higher risk due to potential congenital metabolic disorders, inadequate nutrition, and higher sensitivity to the effects of hypoglycemia on the brain.

Being aware of these risk factors can help prompt closer monitoring and earlier detection of potentially dangerous blood sugar drops.

Can Hypoglycemia be Prevented in Non-Diabetics?

Many cases of hypoglycemia can be prevented in non-diabetics through the following strategies:

Medication Adjustments

Avoiding unnecessary medications linked to hypoglycemia. Using the lowest effective doses of these drugs and monitoring blood glucose when starting treatment.

Hormone Replacement

Treating underlying endocrine deficiencies like adrenal insufficiency or hypopituitarism can prevent hypoglycemia.

Lifestyle Changes

Eating frequent, small meals with a balance of carbs and protein. Avoiding refined carbs and long gaps between meals can minimize rebounds in blood sugar. Limiting alcohol intake decreases hypoglycemia risk.

Awareness of Risk Factors

Careful monitoring of blood sugar in sick, hospitalized patients, the elderly, those with organ failure, and other high-risk groups allows early detection and treatment of lows.

When hypoglycemia occurs, careful follow-up is essential to identify the cause and guide appropriate treatment adjustments. This helps prevent recurrent episodes.


In summary, hypoglycemia can occur in non-diabetics due to factors like medication effects, critical illness, hormonal disorders, liver or kidney dysfunction, tumors, alcohol intake, malnutrition, and idiopathic causes. While less common than in diabetics, severe low blood sugar can have serious health consequences. All cases of hypoglycemia require acute treatment with carbohydrates. Identifying and addressing the underlying cause helps prevent future episodes. With proper management, recurrent hypoglycemia can often be avoided in non-diabetics. Being aware of risk factors allows for closer monitoring and earlier detection of dangerously low blood glucose levels.