Have you seen the video going viral on Facebook right now where four amazing women with type 1 diabetes talk about what low blood sugar feels like?
I love this video, and it inspired me to think about what a low blood sugar feels like for me and to put it into words in this post. I think this is particularly useful for friends and family who may not know or understand what it’s like.
Please watch the video and consider sharing this post with your loved ones if you feel that it helps explain how you feel when your blood sugar is low.
What low blood sugar feels like
Trying to explain a feeling is always hard, and trying to explain something as unique as the feeling of low blood sugar (or hypoglycemia) is even harder.
The physical aspects of a low are easier to describe, so let’s start with those. I almost always feel the signs of a low blood sugar before it becomes critical. I’ll feel it when my blood sugar is around 60 mg/dl (3 mmol/l). I’ll start shaking a little, my cognitive function goes out the window, I get weak, and I typically start sweating (these are the most common low blood sugar symptoms). A cup of juice or 2-3 glucose tabs will usually get me right back to normal pretty quickly and I’ll move on with my day.
But when I don’t catch my symptoms before they get severe, and my sugars dip lower, then that’s a whole other story. This rarely happens during the day, since I can catch them before they get this bad, but it will sometimes happen in my sleep. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and know it’s bad if I’ve had a stress dream (things will move excessively fast in my dream or I’ll be caught in a loop of some sort), I’m sweating profusely, and shaking.
And then there’s the feeling! It an urge, an almost primal instinct to eat! I’ll stand in the kitchen, drenched, shaking, and all my instincts scream “FEED ME!!!”
It makes sense. At this point, my brain isn’t getting enough glucose to function as it should so the instincts take over in order for me not to, well, die.
It’s extremely uncomfortable, to put it mildly, and if you don’t have a plan in place, a strategy for what to do during lows, you will quickly have emptied the fridge, cabinets, and eaten anything you can get your hands on. The normal signals that tell you to stop eating are simply put on standby when your blood sugar is low.
I have written an entire post about how I treat lows at night and I always try to follow that strategy. And no, it doesn’t always work.
How to avoid low blood sugar
For some people, lows can be very scary, but I’ve never passed out from a low or had a seizure, so lows don’t scare me as such. But I will still do everything I can to avoid them!
I rarely have lows, and I think there are several reasons for that. Most importantly, I wear a CGM. Since my CGM warns me before I go low, I can be proactive and prevent it from happening. I also test my blood sugars frequently and have spent a lot of time figuring out my insulin needs for different times of the day, types of exercise, and types of food. It didn’t happen overnight, but I’m happy to say that for me, low blood sugars are rarely severe and they are far apart.
We all experience lows differently, but I think anybody who has ever experienced what low blood sugar feels like will agree that it’s beyond uncomfortable!
Next time one of your loved ones asks “how do you feel when your sugar is low?” consider showing them this post and the video. It’s impossible to fully understand if you have never tried it yourself, but at least this post should give them some understanding of what you are going through.
Suggested next post: The Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar
The awesome girls in the video:
- Laura Pavlakovich from You’re Just My Type (@yourejustmytype1 on Instagram)
- Elida Berry-Donat (@badgallida on Instagram)
- Reny Partain
- Sara Rose
Grant Murray says
I’m really glad to have chanced upon this post. For years I’ve been noting some strange symptoms. Also for years I used diazepam until finally realising I was addicted. I went to get help for that problem and am now treated just like an addict. Fair enough, it’s true. But the reduction process comes with withdrawals that are many and confusing. I have been just trying to suffer them, thinking they will go away eventually. More recently, I’ve been plagued by such a horrific dip in mood and energy, plus the inability to sleep and waking in such a state that no amount of anxiety training helps. At times, I’ve just given in and dosed back up on diazepam. This enables me to have the instant energy to be sensible about eating, sleeping and resting. But with doctors on my case about addiction they have blatantly ignored my suggestions to look for an underlying cause. I have suggested some kind of diabetes, prediabetes or general blood-sugar mismanagement but they say the symptoms are just part of the withdrawals. These terrifying nights and cognitive decline, eyesight issues etc. have had me convinced I am suffering from dementia. It is too scary for words. So, I end up going back to my medicine of historical choice. Then I at least have the energy to sort out myself. But once I feel better, and I really do, all the worrying things like being unable to speak, walk and function with clarity clear up. I’ve just booked a blood test specifically to check for diabetes and other things too but I suspect they will just check my diazepam levels and not “waste time” looking for what I instinctively feel needs ruled in or out. They just blame every thing I report on my addiction. I’m a physical and mental mess with it all. Getting prescribed “walking” and “sleeping” is hardly effective when I have zero energy and can’t get a decent sleep that refreshes me. I am thinking if this continues; it is time to get a different doctor and maybe I can get some health and sanity back. Thanks indeed for these posts. They ring too true for me to ignore.
Christel Oerum says
That sounds scary and frustrating. You could purchase a blood glucose meter and do a self-test when you feel “off”
Hi ma’am. Last month I woke up with bells palsy doctor given me steroids and B12 suppliment for two weeks. After one week my health started getting worst due to my sugar level getting low to 78… 80. 86 or 90 I have almost all the systems but doctors are not ready to accept it. Usually if you eat chocolate or something sugar level comes to normal but in my case it’s not happening as after 2 to 3 hours I am getting pain in stomach and some time getting loose motions. What should I do and what it is.
Christel Oerum says
For low blood sugar, I prefer fast-acting carbohydrates such as juice or glucose tablets. You might have issues dealing with the high-fat content of the chocolate. I suggest you discuss it with a doctor but you might do better with a fast-acting carbohydrate followed by a piece of fruit until you get your health issues sorted out
John Hogan says
Hey thanks for this article/personal reflection. It’s motivated so share my story. I’ve found you after a bike ride that resulted in me feeling quite faint and weak, requiring me to manage myself carefully to get home! I am 17 days into a stretch of very low calorie ketogenic dieting, of the sort Michael Moseley is big on. Plus I’ve lost a fair bit of weight and my blood pressure medication and metformin might be due for another reduction. I see today as a sign of progress and success! I suspect i was only on the edge but I got a diabetes diagnosis after a stroke in 2014…. when in doubt, go too hard on medication rather than not hard enough… sensible to some extent I guess. Anyway I had the interesting situation of going for a great bike ride for the first time in at least 6 months and getting to the point after about an hour of feeling a little faint and grey/grainy in the vision when I stopped riding or pushing the bike up hill. Not concerning but rather noticeable! Well it verged on requiring me to lie down at one or two points but I wasn’t worried. I guess my health psychology is quite positive in general – issues simple require action, more or less assertively. Anyway, exertion fixed this feeling within seconds but I was also very low in energy so I kept stopping, and then quickly feeling that faint/grey/grainy thing again! I managed things carefully to get home and here I am googling your article some time later after a good meal…
I know diabetes isn’t something to shake off for many people but I’m posting this here in case there is interest. I’ve gone from 138kg in Nov 2014 to 105 kg in Jan 2019. I know I will be under 100 in the next 5 or 6 weeks. I think the stretches of very low calorie keto (800 cal) have helped me above and beyond the benefits of weight loss. I understand that keto can be inappropriate to the point of being dangerous for people with type one diabetes.
If anyone reads this and has type 2 diabetes, I urge you to check out the very low cal keto diets. Michael Moseley did the Blood Sugar Diet book a few years ago and that is what got me onto it. I read it and the meals and simply made up my own lazy way that has the same basics but less work! I wouldn’t do it as a permanent lifestyle thing but beyond what I’ve experienced, there is significant evidence of benefits of ketogenic dieting. Again, not for everyone I know. Aside from getting fat out of the liver and pancreas it quickly results in reduced appetite, making the dieting much less arduous that it might seem. Anyway, good luck to all here!
Travis Stucki says
A few years ago before i got my CGM I had a drop while sleeping and didn’t wake up. My wife had to call the EMT because we weren’t prepared for something like this to happen. Since then I have gone on pump therapy and have a CGM which is a life saver and also we both learned how top properly use a Glucagon. The lows do feel like an out of body experience for me and I think I know what I need but I question myself if it is low sugar or am I just in a dream. The feeling is really indescribable and a horrible and scary feeling.
Christel Oerum says
Those low dreams are creepy! I’m glad to hear that you now have access to better tools to manage things. And I completely agree, CGM is such a gamechanger
I’m a hybrid diabetic, meaning I got this way due to a surgical issue when my pancreas was attacked by infected enzymes and the outer cells became necrotic. When I have a sudden low I feel the same way as others have described with one exception, I sometimes refuse to eat when I’m having a critical low. I feel sick to my stomach and can’t think reasonably enough to realize that I have to eat so I get stubborn and as though I’ll vomit if it eat.
Christel Oerum says
I can sometimes get that irrational resistance to eat when low. I don’t necessarily feel ill, just irritated. But it’s only when I’m borderline low, ones I hit the 50’ies I’ll treat right away. Not smart, but I’m working on it
Suggestion: Drink a kid’s juice box, maybe, when you can’t get yourself to eat?
Michael A Pence says
I have had diabetes for 45 years and have had numerous low blood sugars. My experiences sound very similar to what others are sharing, and it feels terrible. I’m not sure if I can explain this, however, but I sometimes experience something different. It seems that whatever I am feeling at the time of the low, ends up being amplified. In other words, if I am feeling down, I get depressed, but if I am happy, then I get absolutely giddy. This giddy feeling doesn’t happen nearly as often, but my wife recognizes it immediately and gets me some help. I wonder if it is connected to stress levels that I am feeling at the time of the low blood sugar?
Christel Oerum says
That could be. I’ve also found that my low symptoms have changed over time (which my endo tells me is normal). Glad you and your wife know how to recognize them
I am 26 and I’ve had Diabetes Type 1 since I was 9 years old. I definitely do agree, low blood sugars are terrifying. It feels like the world is going on without you even though you can see you are in it. It’s a BAD out of body experience, you see how you are doing nothing just sitting or crying, you want to move but you just can’t, you feel helpless, scared and just, finished with. You can’t control what you think of and your mind only thinks of all the negative things that are happening or could happen. You feel a sudden depression and a darkness in your life, the worst part is that you feel it and you believe it’s real. I must say, it is the worst feeling ever, the most scary part is, you don’t know what your body/mind will do, and even though you want to you just aren’t in control. I had a baby recently and the last 3 times my sugar levels have dropped have been the scariest, for some strange reason, your mind plays a really mean game with you when this happens, it makes me feel as if I never had her and she was my imagination, I burst into tears, it’s the worst feeling ever. Even though my mind and body are tired after these episodes, all i want to do after is hold her, to make sure that she is real, I just cry as I hold her little hand. It feels like loosing your baby, I’ve felt I have lost her three times now, it the worse thing I’ve ever felt.
Callie P says
THANK YOU!!!!!! I am Type 2 and take 2 insulins and 3 different types of pills. I have always felt alone and that no one understood. When I am at work if I go low, I don’t get 15-20 min to rest… I don’t know what to do because it is very uncontroled and I get lows often and high more because I end up over-compensating. Now I know I am not the only one
Billie Jean says
I’ve been a type 1 diabetic since 1989. I’ve had sugars as low as 23! It is the worse feeling ever. I can’t think, and it makes me feel as if I’m ignorant. And worse when I don’t comprehend I’m dropping. It feels like my world is spinning out of control. I don’t know left from right. And I panic and want to get away from everyone. No one understands that it makes me feel like I’m dieing . my heart beats out of my chest and I can’t get a grasp on I need sugar! After all these years lows still scare me to death. When it finally comes up my body and mind are exhausted. And I need sleep. And all I get is gripping for sleeping! I’m tired and exhausted of the constant battle of diabetes. But no one understands. And I wouldn’t wish diabetes on anyone but there are some I’d like to have for just a week to experience the life of a diabetic. Taking shots checking sugars the lows and the highs the neuropathy the helpless feeling of fighting the endless battle with diabetes. So don’t judge me when I’m high and grouchy or low and silly.
Lori Hahn says
Thank you for your post. Sometimes you think you’re the only one going through this type of stuff. Take care!