Hypoglycemic episodes can be one of the scariest things about having diabetes.
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
November 2008 — Earlier this week, I had a very interesting online chat with a few other people with diabetes about hypoglycemia. It had been a topic I had been reading a lot about lately in one of the diabetes communities I run, so we organized a chat about it.
I read about the challenges from a mother of a three year old boy with type 1 diabetes. Every day, when he comes back from pre-school, his blood sugars are low. I also learned about the episode of a girl who went so low that she lost consciousness, fortunate enough to have her mother around when it happened. It brought to mind my dad's case: he once went as low as 25 mg/dl. He couldn't recognize faces and didn't know where he was.
Remembering the First Time
In retrospective, my first hypo (don't they sound cute when you call them like that?) was almost laughable, easily making the part in a list of funny moments in my life with diabetes. This is how I remember it: My wife and I were sitting in bed, reading "What To Expect When You're Expecting" (for those who don't have kids, this is the best kept secret that everyone tells you about once they learn you are pregnant). We were going through the chapter that talked about how husbands, like their expecting wives, sometimes show symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, etc.
All of a sudden, I felt dizzy and shaky, so I told her about it. Naturally, her first reaction was to think I was saying this because we were reading about pregnancy and how husbands showed the "symptoms," too. But luckily it dawned on her what we had read shortly before about hypoglycemia. (I hadn't been diagnosed for too long at that point.) She ran for the meter and, sure enough, I was at 42 mg/dl (2.33 mmol/l). It was my first low blood sugar episode. We did the whole "take 15 grams of carbs, wait 15 minutes and test again" and came out of it having learned how hypoglycemia felt – not fun!
Dealing With Reality
Hypoglycemic episodes can be one of the scariest things about having diabetes. This is perhaps because they are one of the things that quickly remind us how fragile things can be for someone whose body is not able to self-regulate blood sugars. Also, they can have a very dangerous effect in the short term, if you experience a low blood sugar when you are driving or in similar situations.
So, what's a person to do? There is no perfect answer for this, but here are a few thoughts to consider to minimize blood sugar lows and their consequences:
- Test regularly, especially before you are about to engage in any kind of activity that could put you or others in danger if you go low.
- Do your best to stick to regular meal times and talk to your doctor before you start any weightloss program.
- Make sure to test before you start practicing any kind of intense physical activity and test again a few minutes after you are done.
- Always have glucose tablets handy. If you don't, try to have something else at hand that will add up to about 15 grams of fast-absorbing carbs (1/3 can of regular soda will do the trick, for example).
- Tell at least one other person close to you at your workplace, classroom, or where you tend to spend most of your time about your diabetes and how to help you treat a low blood sugar episode.
In spite of the uncomfortable and sometimes scary moments hypoglycemia can take you through, avoid the temptation of riding high blood sugars to avoid low blood sugar episodes. The short-term "gains" are not worth the long-term complications.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...