Hypoglycemia not as common as was once believed
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When I was in my 20s, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I am 54 now. As I remember, the attacks made me feel spacey and woozy. The doctor had me on a diet that consisted of six meals a day, with emphasis on protein. As the years went by, the attacks stopped. I have seen a new doctor and told him about my diagnosis. He rolled his eyes and said he doubts the diagnosis. I didn’t imagine my symptoms. Was this something that was just in my head? Isn’t hypoglycemia for real? — D.T.
ANSWER:
Hypoglycemia — low blood sugar — is for real, but it was overdiagnosed at one time. Two movie stars of days gone by championed this condition and made people believe it was commonplace. It happens to diabetics who have taken too much insulin, but it doesn’t happen all that often to other people.
Symptoms of low blood sugar are sudden sweating, nausea, a fast heartbeat, headache, dizziness and confusion. Each of those symptoms is common to many other conditions. In the heyday of hypoglycemia, the diagnosis was made too often when a person complained of any of these signs.
To make the diagnosis, stringent criteria have to be followed. The person must have low blood sugar when symptoms are present. Raising blood sugar must abolish the symptoms quickly. A quick way to abolish the symptoms is to give sugar or something sweetened with sugar. The brain has no sugar reserves of its own. Blood sugar supplies it. That’s why low blood sugar causes the array of symptoms that it does.
One serious cause of hypoglycemia is a tumor of the pancreas’s insulin-producing cells. With such a tumor, pancreatic cells continue to release insulin even when blood sugar has dipped. A drop in blood sugar should stop insulin release.
I don’t know what to make of your previous diagnosis. I don’t believe your symptoms were imagined. You might have had hypoglycemia and have gotten over it.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My father is 88 and quite headstrong. He has taken a daily dose of mineral oil for years and years. He says it keeps him regular. Should he continue to do this? Could it harm him? — K.H.
ANSWER:
Mineral oil was once a favorite treatment for constipation and for its prevention. It’s not a great way to combat either. It interferes with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, and it can block absorption of other nutrients. He should take it before eating or before taking any medicines or vitamins. If it goes down the wrong way — into the lungs rather than the stomach — it causes pneumonia.
Your dad is 88. I take it he is in reasonable health. He’s been taking mineral oil for years and years without facing any consequences. I would mention to him that this isn’t a good idea. However, he is at an age when he can do most anything he wants. If he objects, I wouldn’t push matters too hard.
The booklet on constipation and its treatment deals with this common problem in depth. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 504, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Something is the matter with my tongue. It has moveable red patches on it. One day the patches will be in one place, and the next day they’re in another. It doesn’t hurt, and I can taste food as I always have. What is this? — L.G.
ANSWER:
It’s geographic tongue. The tongue sports a number of red, slightly sunken patches that have a raised white border. The patches do move around. Fine projections from the tongue, called papillae, disappear. They rapidly regenerate, and another site undergoes loss of papillae. It goes away without treatment.
Long-distance diagnoses are unreliable. Have your dentist or doctor confirm this.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


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