It’s hard to accurately describe what it’s like to have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) without really experiencing it for yourself, but I can say that the feeling sucks. Low blood sugar happens when there is not enough glucose (sugar) in the body to be used as fuel for cells. Most people, whether you are diabetic or not, probably have experienced a mild form when you’ve gone a really long time without eating. Maybe you get a little grumpy or light headed. Now take that feeling and multiply it by 100. While some symptoms are more common than others, people with diabetes experience their lows differently, you just learn to recognize your symptoms. I’ve compiled a list of common and possible symptoms, starting with the ones I’ve experienced personally.
1. Shaky– my hands literally shake when my blood sugar drops
2. Light headed– kind of a dizzy, out-of-it feeling
3. Hungry!– It’s your body’s evolutionary response to tell you to eat and get more carbs. The lower the blood sugar, the hungrier I feel, even if I just ate a huge meal. More than I’d like, I find myself raiding the refrigerator and eating until I start to feel better and that awful low feeling disappears. This is one of the worst symptoms for anyone on a diet or trying to watch what they eat! And this over-treating can lead to high blood sugar and a seemingly endless roller coaster of ups and downs.
4. Lethargic– Sometimes it feels like my limbs have become really heavy and all I want to do is lay down.
5. Trouble thinking/concentrating– It becomes really hard to put together coherent thoughts when my blood sugar is low, which was incredibly inconvenient if I was taking an exam or writing a paper in school.
6. Irritable/short tempered– This symptom I personally never noticed, but I’ve been told that I can occasionally get “mean” when my blood sugar drops.
7. Pounding heart/racing pulse– This symptom can be deceiving, often when I’m nervous or anxious I confuse the feeling with having low blood sugar.
8. Suddenly feeling very warm/hot– I’d imagine its kind of like having a hot flash? Nice when it’s cold out, but not so great any other time.
9. Numbness in mouth and tongue– This symptom freaked me out! It happened for the first time recently and I had no idea that it was a common symptom.
13. Pale skin
18. Poor coordination
19. Nightmares or bad dreams– that’s interesting, I actually didn’t know that one (thanks WebMD)
20. Skin becomes cold and clammy
22. Sleep disturbances
23. Blurred vision
24. Slurred speech
25. Depressed mood
27. Personality changes
28. Tingling in hands or feet
29. Frequent sighing
30. Nausea or vomiting– for me, this is a symptom of high blood sugar, not low, but apparently it happens to people
So these next few I’ve personally never experienced (and hope to never!), but it is what happens if a person’s blood sugar drops dangerously low:
31. Passing out/unconsciousness
Not quite 50 symptoms, but there are definitely a lot.
While I try to avoid having low blood sugar, I have accepted it as part of being diabetic. And while I don’t think I can ever get used to the horrible feeling, I’ve learned to tolerate it. However, having an episode of low blood sugar might be the most disruptive part of having diabetes. Sure it takes time to test your blood sugar or give insulin, but we’re talking less than a couple minutes for those tasks. Most episodes of low blood sugar last about 15 minutes before I start to feel normal again. That’s 15 minutes of not being able to think straight or concentrate, 15 minutes where your body feels shaky, weak, and light headed, 15 minutes of wanting to just sit or lie still. Most of the time I don’t or can’t completely stop what I’m doing at the time. I eat my fruit snacks and carry on with my life, but it’s not always an easy thing to do. And while I enjoy the taste of my fruit snacks, there’s nothing worse than exercising and working hard to burn off those calories to then have to turn around and eat sugar because my blood sugar had dropped.
Sometimes I will go days, maybe even a week without experiencing a low, but there have been other times where I will drop low 3 or more times in a single day. The scariest part is, you never really know when or where you will be when it drops low and it can become very dangerous very quickly, so you must always be prepared. That’s why I carry packets of fruit snacks with me everywhere. The best thing is to learn to recognize your symptoms so that you can react and treat it early before it gets too low. That’s one of the reasons I really like my continuous glucose monitor, it tells me when I’m dropping low sometimes even before I feel it.
I’m sitting here trying to think of what kind of silver lining there might be from having to deal with low blood sugars. I could say that it has taught me to always be prepared and to expect the unexpected. But maybe, it’s more that sometimes things in life just suck! There’s no better way to put it. Having low blood sugar is awful, but it’s part of having diabetes and just something you have to learn to live with and deal with. I think everyone has something in their life that they wish they didn’t have to deal with, something that might be disruptive, uncomfortable, or unpleasant. Maybe you’re lucky and can find a way to deal with it so that it disappears, but for the rest of us that are stuck with our “low blood sugars”, it’s recognizing that sometimes even though life has handed you lemons, you can still have a great life.
(Images from DiabetesHealth- http://www.diabeteshealth.com/cartoons/)