What Is Dextrose?
is the name of a simple sugar chemically identical to glucose (blood sugar)
that is made from corn. While dextrose is used in baking products as a
sweetener, it also has medical purposes. Dextrose is dissolved in solutions
that are given intravenously, which can be combined with other drugs, or used
to increase a person’s blood sugar. Dextrose is also available as an oral gel
or tablet. Because dextrose is a “simple” sugar, the body can quickly use it
What Are Common Dextrose Preparations?
Dextrose is used to make several intravenous (IV) preparations
or mixtures, which are available only at a hospital or medical facility.
- dextrose injections, which
are pre-mixed with sterile water, in concentrations from 5 to 70 percent
- dextrose injections, in
combination with sodium in several concentrations
- amino acid/dextrose
injections, which provide nutrition for someone who is unable to eat
It’s also available as an oral gel or in oral tablet
form, which are available over the counter from pharmacies.
Each dextrose concentration has its own unique uses.
Higher concentrations are typically used as “rescue” doses when someone has a
very low blood sugar reading.
How Is Dextrose Used?
Dextrose is used in various concentrations for
different purposes. For example, a doctor may prescribe dextrose in an IV
solution when someone is dehydrated and has low blood sugar. Dextrose IV
solutions can also be combined with many drugs, for IV administration. These
solutions may be used to reduce the sodium level in the blood. The extra
dextrose in a person’s body can cause sodium to go into the cells, reducing the
amount in the bloodstream.
Dextrose is a carbohydrate, which is one part of
nutrition in a normal diet. Solutions containing dextrose provide calories and
may be given intravenously in combination with amino acids and fats. This is
called total parenteral nutrition (TPN) and is used to provide nutrition to
those who can’t eat normally.
High concentration dextrose injections are only
given by professionals. These injections are administered to people whose blood
sugar may be very low and who cannot swallow dextrose tablets, foods, or
Sometimes doctors also give dextrose injections of
50 percent, followed by insulin injections, if a person’s potassium levels are
too high. This condition is known as hyperkalemia. When the cells take in the
extra glucose, they also take in potassium. This helps to lower a person’s blood
People with diabetes or hypoglycemia (chronically
low blood sugar) may carry dextrose gel or tablets in case their blood sugar
gets too low. The gel or tablets dissolve in a person’s mouth and quickly boost
blood sugar levels. If a person’s blood sugar is less than 70 mg/dL and they
are having low blood sugar symptoms, they may need to take the dextrose
tablets. Examples of low blood sugar symptoms include weakness, confusion, sweating,
and too-fast heart rate.
What Precautions Should I Take When Using Dextrose?
A medical provider should not give dextrose to people with
certain kinds of medical conditions. This is because the dextrose could
potentially cause too-high blood sugar or fluid shifts in the body that lead to
swelling or fluid buildup in the lungs.
Examples of medical conditions where a person shouldn’t receive dextrose
- hyperglycemia, or high blood
- hypokalemia, or low
potassium levels in the blood
- peripheral edema, or
swelling in the arms, feet, or legs
- pulmonary edema, or when fluids
build up in the lungs
Even if a person does not have these conditions, it
is important to continually check a person’s blood sugar if he or she is
receiving dextrose. This can ensure that the dextrose does not dangerously
increase blood sugar.
If you are diabetic and your doctor prescribes
dextrose oral gel or tablets for you, these should only be used when you have a
low blood sugar reaction. Your doctor or diabetes educator should teach you how
to spot the signs of low blood sugar and when to use the tablets. If you need
to have the gel or tablets on hand, you should keep them with you at all times
and you should keep some at home. Your doctor should also explain to other
family members when to use the gel or tablets, in case others need to give them
If you have an allergy to corn, you could have an
allergic reaction to dextrose. Talk to your doctor before using it.
What Are the Side Effects of Dextrose?
Dextrose should be carefully given to people who
have diabetes, because they might not be able to process dextrose as quickly as
would someone without the condition. Dextrose can increase the blood sugar too
much, which is known as hyperglycemia.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
- fruity odor on the breath
- increasing thirst with no
- dry skin
- shortness of breath
- stomach upset
- unexplained fatigue
- urinating frequently
If you need to use dextrose, your blood sugar could
increase too much afterward. You should test your blood sugar after using
dextrose tablets, as directed by your doctor or diabetes educator. You may need
to adjust your insulin to lower your blood sugar.
If you are given IV fluids with dextrose in the
hospital, your nurse will check your blood sugar. If the blood sugar tests too
high, the dose of your IV fluids may be adjusted or even stopped, until your
blood sugar reaches a safer level. You could also be given insulin, to help
reduce your blood sugar.
Always consult a doctor before stopping treatment
for diabetes, or if you test your blood sugar and it is high. If you have
glucose gel or tablets in your home, keep them away from children. Large
amounts taken by small children could be especially dangerous.