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Insulin Reaction

Insulin Reaction Definition

An insulin reaction occurs when a person with diabetes becomes confused or even unconscious because of hypoglycemia (hypo=low + glycol = sugar + emia = in the blood) caused by insulin or oral diabetic medications. (Please note that for this article blood sugar and blood glucose mean the same thing and the terms may be used interchangeably.)

The terms insulin reaction, insulin shock, and hypoglycemia (when associated with a person with diabetes) are often used interchangeably.

In normal physiology, the body is able to balance the glucose (sugar levels) in the bloodstream. When a person eats, and glucose levels start to rise, the body signals the pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin "unlocks the door" to cells in the body so that the glucose can be used for energy. When blood sugar levels drop, insulin production decreases and the liver begins producing glucose.

In people with diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to meet the body's demand. Treatment may include medications taken by mouth (oral hypoglycemics), insulin, or both. The balance of food intake and medication is not automatic, and a person with diabetes needs to be aware that too much medication or too little food may cause blood sugar levels to drop.

Interestingly, brain cells do not need insulin to access the glucose in the blood stream. Brain cells also cannot store excess glucose, so when blood sugar levels drop, brain function is one of the first parts of the body to become affected.

In an insulin reaction, the blood sugar levels are usually below 50 mg/dL (or 2.78 mmol/L in SI units).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/23/2014

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