What is dextrose?
Dextrose is the name of a
simple sugar that is made from corn and is chemically identical to glucose, or blood
sugar. Dextrose is often used in baking products as a sweetener, and can be
commonly found in items such as processed foods and corn syrup.
Dextrose also has medical
purposes. It is dissolved in solutions that are given intravenously, which can
be combined with other drugs, or used to increase a person’s blood sugar.
Because dextrose is a
“simple” sugar, the body can quickly use it for energy.
Simple sugars can raise blood sugar levels very quickly, and they often
lack nutritional value. Examples of other simple sugars include glucose,
fructose, and galactose. Products that are typically made of simple sugars
include refined sugar, white pasta, and honey.
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 is also available as
an oral gel or in oral tablet form 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.
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 cannot absorb or get carbohydrates, amino acids,
and fats through their gut.
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 drinks.
If a person’s potassium
levels are too high (hyperkalemia), sometimes doctors also give dextrose
injections of 50 percent, followed by insulin intravenously. This may be done
in the hospital setting. When the cells take in the extra glucose, they also
take in potassium. This helps to lower a person’s blood potassium levels. The
dextrose is given to prevent the person from being hypoglycemic. The insulin is
treating the elevated potassium.
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.
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 to you.
If you have an allergy to
corn, you could have an allergic reaction to dextrose. Talk to your doctor
before using it.
Monitoring your blood sugar while on dextrose
Even if you don’t have certain
conditions, it is important to continually check your blood sugar if they are
receiving dextrose. This can ensure that the dextrose does not dangerously
increase blood sugar. You can check your blood sugar with home tests. They
involve testing blood from a finger prick on a blood strip. For those who are
physically unable to test their blood at home, urine glucose tests are
available, though they’re not as reliable.
If you do find that you or
someone else is having a negative reaction due to low blood sugar, the dextrose
tablets should be taken immediately. According
to the Joslin Diabetes Center, four
glucose tablets are equal to 15 grams of carbs and can be taken in the case of
low blood sugar levels (unless otherwise advised by your doctor). Chew the
tablets thoroughly before swallowing. No water is needed. Your symptoms should
improve within 20 minutes. If they don’t, consult your doctor.
The dextrose gel often comes
in single-serving tubes, which are poured directly into the mouth and
swallowed. If you haven’t felt any positive changes after 10 minutes, repeat
with another tube. If your blood sugar is still too low after an additional 10
minutes, contact your doctor.
Dextrose in children
Dextrose can be used in children similarly to how it is used in
adults, as a medical intervention for hypoglycemia.
In cases of severe pediatric hypoglycemia, children will often
be given dextrose intravenously. Prompt and early treatment in children and
infants with hypoglycemia is essential, as untreated hypoglycemia can result in
neurological damage. If they’re able to take it, dextrose may be given to
In the case of neonatal hypoglycemia, which can be caused by
several disorders such as metabolism defects or hyperinsulinism, infants can
have small amounts of dextrose gel added to their diet to help them maintain
healthy blood sugar levels. Consult your doctor for how much dextrose to add to
their diet. Infants that were born prematurely are at risk for hypoglycemia,
and may be given dextrose via an IV.
Dextrose powder and bodybuilding
Dextrose is naturally calorie-dense and easy for the body to
break down for energy. Because of this, dextrose powder is available and
sometimes used as a nutritional supplement by bodybuilders who are looking to
increase weight and muscle.
While the boost in calories and easy to break down nature of
dextrose can benefit bodybuilders or those looking to increase muscle mass, it’s
important to note that dextrose lacks other essential nutrients that are needed
to accomplish this goal. Those nutrients include protein and fat. Dextrose
powder’s simple sugars also make it easier to break down, while complex sugars
and carbohydrates may benefit bodybuilders more, as they are more successful at
helping fat to burn.
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.
- fruity odor on the breath
- increasing thirst with no
- dry skin
- shortness of breath
- stomach upset
- unexplained fatigue
- urinating frequently
Effect on blood
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.
Dextrose’s simple sugar
composition makes it useful as a treatment for hypoglycemia and low blood sugar
for patients of all ages, with some treatment options being convenient and
portable. It is safe to use long-term on an as-needed basis. Dextrose does not
come without risks, however, and even those without diabetes should carefully
monitor their blood sugar when taking it.
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.