Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN | Published on May 15, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 15, 2015

What Is Dextrose?

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 for energy.

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. Examples include:

  • 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 drinks.

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 potassium levels.

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 include:

  • hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar
  • 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 to you.

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 known causes
  • dry skin
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach upset
  • unexplained fatigue
  • urinating frequently
  • vomiting

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.

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