What It Feels Like To Have A Serious Blood Sugar Crash
By Belinda Barrett; photography by Pixabay
A type-1 diabetic describes exactly what it feels like to experience hypoglycaemia – a dangerous blood sugar crash – and how to prevent it.
First off, there’s a pretty big distinction between type-1 and type-2 diabetes. Put simply, type-1 is when the body does not produce insulin at all; type-2 is when your cells have become insulin resistant as a result of lifestyle issues – poor diet, lack of exercise or being overweight.
So what exactly is hypoglycaemia?
Type-1s are at major risk of hypoglycaemia, what we call a “low” (for low blood sugar) or “hypo” (for the obvious reasons). A low happens when your blood sugar levels drop to below normal level because you’ve administered too much insulin or done a lot of exercise and your body has burnt up all the glucose in your blood for energy.
Low blood sugar is anything below 4mmol/l. Your brain needs sugar to operate, so if it goes too low without you getting sugar you won’t be able to help yourself and you could literally fall into a coma.
Insulin is a hormone that your body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into your cells, which is why it’s injected by type-1 diabetics.
Read More: What Sugar Really Does To Your Body
How can you tell that a “low” is coming on?
Warning signs of low blood sugar are hunger, shakiness, confusion, sweating, moodiness (for example, impatience) and a fast heartbeat. I get jelly legs when I’m walking and feel airy and lightheaded.
Unfortunately, your body can adapt to the feeling of having a low and only reacts when it’s so low that help is critical! You have to keep your blood sugar levels as normal as possible all the time so your body doesn’t get confused and think it’s normal to be operating at such a low level. This can be pretty difficult.
What does it actually feel like when it happens?
It feels bad, which is a good thing because you want to get help to feel better, but your mind is affected because of lack of glucose in the blood to the brain so your reactions may not be super-fast. You may appear drunk, your body is in distress and if you don’t get sugar convulsions could start. This has happened to me in the night and it’s scary!
It’s not painful, but you may feel nausea. Plus, you feel so lightheaded that you literally can’t think straight. You know what to do in the beginning, but it’s just in slow motion – like an out-of-body experience. You really have to try focus and put your mind to unwrapping that sweet to get your shot of glucose, but it always feels impossible!
It’s essentially the early stages of slipping into a coma. Maybe this is what it feels like when you’re dying…
Panic isn’t something I’ve experienced because that would require too much energy. You don’t see anyone panicking as they die – maybe docs should check their blood sugar and see how they fare!
Brain function is a biggie here… Say you’re in a shopping centre and you have a “low” – all you can do is drag yourself across the shopping centre floor to get to the sweets, without actually being able to tell everyone that you’re diabetic. You’ll be slurring if you try to speak at this point. You probably wouldn’t even think to try anyway. A dying person has never had the energy to explain themselves, I don’t think!
You also need energy to stand, so you lose that function pretty fast too. One night a non-painful convulsion alerted me to the fact that something was wrong and I crawled to the kitchen. I ended up on the floor, trying to open the fridge from the ground to get the milk (which contains lactose, a sugar) because I’d lost my ability to stand.
What can someone do to help get your blood sugar up? And what should they never do?
Never, ever give a diabetic insulin – it will more than likely kill them.
Instead, give them something sweet – even milk works because of the milk sugar lactose. If the person isn’t conscious, use a glucose injection, which all diabetics should have at hand. Instructions are included in the kit. Alternatively, call the emergency services and rub sugar on their gums for fast absorption. Liquid could cause choking at this point.
Once a few minutes have passed, test their blood sugar with glucose monitor to establish if all is okay again – though all parties will generally be able to tell!
Read More: 7 Signs You’re Totally Addicted To Sugar