Despite so many advances in both medicine and technology, people living with type 1 diabetes still have a higher premature mortality rate than the general population. Severe hypoglycemia can be fatal and accounts for up to 10% of deaths among young people with type 1 diabetes. Being able to detect the symptoms of a low blood sugar is crucial to taking action and bringing your blood sugar back into the normal range before it becomes an emergency, life-threatening situation.
Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, means that your body does not have enough sugar in the bloodstream to fuel all of your body’s cells. Typically a low blood sugar is defined as anything below 70 mg/dL (3.8 mmol/L). The ill-effects of low blood sugar can be scary and some can be permanent. They range from confusion to seizure, to coma, and can even result in death.
One of the most popular questions I get asked personally and see circulating in the diabetes online community is parents asking those living with diabetes–what does a blood sugar feel like? For a parent, this information can be so helpful in avoiding a very dangerous situation. It is also important for those of us living with diabetes to be attuned to our bodies and recognize the symptoms before they become more pronounced and severe. The quicker we can act and treat our low the less of an interruption this will also be on our, or our child’s, daily lives.
I asked our friends in the diabetes online community if they could do their best to describe how they feel when having a low blood sugar. Remember, everyone’s experience is different and how you may react can depend on how fast or slow you are dropping. It can also vary each time so make sure to stay on your toes and stay vigilant!
“I feel like I’m in the Matrix, everything is slowed down. I feel super floaty as if I am drunk and all I can think about is how sweaty and hot I am.”- Jesse, 28, NY
“Mostly I don’t feel them but when I do it’s like having run a marathon while having a panic attack followed by exhaustion.” – Jessica, age 32, PA
“Normally when I’m low I get the chills and cold sweats. I will be drenched in sweat. People around me notice I get a little hyper, especially with my talking. I was having bad lows in my sleep for a while and would wake up to someone putting juice or soda down my throat. My wife could tell I was low due to the massive amount of sweat.” – Bradley, 34, TX
“Weak. Fatigue. Dry mouth. Sweaty. Grumpy. Hungry.” – Briana, 26, UT
“It feels like someone is deflating your energy like a pool float.” – Matt, 25, NC
“I honestly feel drunk. Not the ‘fun’ drunk but the confused and dizzy kind. Plus, it’s like I’m having a hot flash. And sometimes I get that ‘sense of impending doom’ where it’s like ‘omg I think I might actually die this time’.”- Abby, 27, OH
“If it isn’t a terrible low, I just feel a little off, woozy and shaky. A bad low will make me sweaty and tingly and then confusion sets in. Once I realize I am low, all my symptoms get magnified. I can feel my heart race and the drops of sweat build upon every inch of my skin. Sometimes this comes along with mild panic attack symptoms.” – Vonda, 21, NZ
“It makes my knees go weak. Also, my depth perception gets distorted.”- Maria, 38, TN
“It is like my whole equilibrium gets thrown off and it feels like I am on the very top of a rollercoaster right before you come down. Other than that, I feel sweaty, shaky, disoriented, and sometimes numb around my lips and tongue. I am also irritable, emotional and a little bit snippy.” – Allison, 35, TX
“I always compare it to being outside all day, without eating anything, and trying to walk home uphill.” – Jim, 35, PA
“Every low is a little different, but overall it feels like circuits in my brain are breaking, the lower I drop the more broken circuits there are. Hypoglycemia starves your brain, so you’re bound to feel weird!” – Paige, 29, CO
“Rapid drops cause sensory overload. Light, sound, touch become overwhelming inputs. Panic sets in, inability to form coherent thoughts, cold sweats then rage. By this time fight or flight has kicked in and I usually remove myself from other people and prefer to stay in the dark with earphones in but no sound playing until my blood sugar returns to baseline.” – Rodney, age 37, TX
“I have too much energy and craziness when I’m low. I feel invincible and have no shame.” – Jeroen, 24, Belgium
“Like those music videos where the singer is in regular motion when everyone around them is in super fast speed. Brain fog, illogical and irrational thoughts. Like my limbs weigh 100 lbs. each and moving them causes me to sweat.” – Nicole, 40, NC
“My first symptom is always that feeling when you’re on a plane that has taken off and it drops a bit and feels like the bottom has dropped out of your skull. I don’t know how else to describe it.” – Cat, 35, NZ
“Feeling like your body is shutting down.”- Lauren, 22, WY
“When I am just slightly low I feel mostly shaky. As I go lower I get sweaty, irritable, lose my vision and can’t make decisions. Bad lows feel like your brain is melting and then it hits that impending doom feeling where it’s like ‘eat to stay alive’.” – Nicole, 31, DE
“A bad low feels like donating blood then running a marathon.” – Eustacia, 42, CO
“I start feeling hungry and tired if it’s a slow approaching low. I feel sweaty, zonked out, and if I start seeing spots, it’s a fast dropping one.” – Cally, 39, CA
“It feels like I’ve spun around really fast (like little kids do) and then suddenly stopped.” – Lela, 41, NY
Knowing how your body and brain react to low blood sugars can help you to correct them quickly and avoid a scary situation. For parents of children living with type one diabetes, it is so important to know what signs to look for and asking your child to describe how they feel will be helpful in detecting lows.
While we can do our best to identify and treat low blood sugars, there can be circumstances out of our control. Making sure we are always prepared for these events is key in managing our own or our loved one’s diabetes. There are several glucagon formulations on the market right now and everyone should have one on hand, just in case.
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Read more about blood glucose monitoring, diabetes management, Intensive management, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), support.