Severe Hypoglycemia: African Americans With Diabetes Are At Risk

African American man diabetes testingHypoglycemia, also called low blood glucose or low blood sugar, is one of the most common short-term complications in people with type 1 diabetes. Individuals with type 2 diabetes who are treated with insulin or other anti-diabetes medications that stimulate insulin production, may also experience hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is defined as a blood glucose level below 70 mg/dl. Hypoglycemia may range from mild to moderate (60-70 mg/dl) with few or no symptoms, to severe hypoglycemia with very low levels of glucose (<40 mg/dl) and neurologic symptoms such as seizures or convulsions. Severe hypoglycemia is associated with an increased risk of death, dementia, heart disease stroke, falls, fall-related fractures, motor vehicle accidents, poorer quality of life, and emotional challenges.

African Americans with diabetes are less likely to achieve diabetes control and more likely to experience long-term diabetes complications, such as kidney failure and amputation, compared to Whites with diabetes. There is evidence that African Americans also experience severe hypoglycemia more often than Whites. A recent study evaluated the incidence of severe hypoglycemia in patients with diabetes receiving either insulin or insulin-stimulating medication over a 7-year period. The results showed African Americans had consistently higher rates of severe hypoglycemia compared with Whites.

Scientist do not fully understand why African Americans experience higher rates of severe hypoglycemia. However, knowing the causes, symptoms and how to manage hypoglycemia can help you prevent complications associated with severe hypoglycemia.

What Causes Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia can be a side effect of insulin or other types of diabetes medicines that help your body make more insulin. Hypoglycemia can occur in people with diabetes for many reasons. For example, blood glucose can drop if meals are skipped, delayed, or are too small; too much insulin or oral medications; increased amounts of exercise or activity; or excessive alcohol consumption.