What does it feel like to have a low blood sugar?
That’s a question I’ve heard countless times over the years, in my three decades of living with type 1. It’s one of those universal questions that no one without this condition can ever seem to understand, and those of us on the inside can’t seem to find fitting words to describe.
Lately I’ve had a number of people from outside the D-Community ask me this question again — perhaps in response to a post or picture about a Low, my promoting #BlueFridays, or because they saw the medical alert bracelet that’s been on my wrist more often these days.
As we’re still in the midst of November as National Diabetes Awareness Month and many have been kicking their advocacy efforts into high gear to spread true understanding of what living with diabetes is really like, this seemed like a great time to tackle this question — especially with this month’s DSMA Blog Carnival topic that asks:
I’d want to them to have some understanding of the experience of hypoglycemia: how scary it is and how helpless we feel. For me, it starts like this:
Hey, it’s freezing!
There’s a Big Chill, so to speak. And no, I’m not talking about the great 80s movie by that name with an all-star cast about a group of college friends reuniting for a weekend (a movie that’s 30 years old this year!). No, for me, this Big Diabetes Chill is certainly no weekend getaway.
Sometimes it feels weird telling people this, because I don’t get the sense that “going cold” is one of the classic symptoms people think or know of when it comes to hypoglycemia. Heck, sweating is one of the symptoms people talk about most, and this is literally the polar opposite. For me, this chill is a sign that I’ve come to recognize as being a signal for bad things ahead.
I feel it coming on slowly, a slight shiver that makes itself known but doesn’t completely distract me from whatever I might be doing at the time. At first, I can just ignore it. But it gets worse.
Working from home, I might be able to put on a heavier shirt, or even my robe and slippers (except when I’m doing a Skype interview, of course!). There might be a winter hat that gets pulled out and worn inside.
Eventually, I wonder whether this is a blood sugar or house temp issue. In the summer, it’s a bit easier to tell because it’s so warm outside, but this time of year gets a little trickier to determine whether I just need to crank the heater up, or whether diabetes is cranking me down.
I can check my blood sugar on a meter or glance at my CGM, but sometimes even those aren’t completely accurate and I find that my low blood sugar symptom is more revealing than the D-tech I so rely on (!) Sometimes my body just knows best by experiencing a big chill.
Is this normal? I have no idea.
“Chill” doesn’t appear in the classic list of hypo symptoms:
Yes, I sometimes also get the dizziness and blurry vision, inability to think clearly or even walk straight, that overpowering shaking or fatigue that makes me want to put my head down and close my eyes. Even that sweating. As I’ve told people: “It’s like being drunk, without the buzz.”
These symptoms have actually changed for me over the years, and I’ve become more unaware of my low blood sugars at certain times — like those pivotal moments in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping and don’t wake up to treat as needed.
That’s of course where D-tech comes in handy the most and provides a sense of safety that my physical symptoms can’t. We talk a lot about diabetes gadgets and tech tools here at the ‘Mine, and it’s great to have access to these devices that can often catch these Lows before they get out of hand.
But not always. With meters being as much as 20% off the mark and CGMs sometimes showing delayed results (especially when sugars are changing fast), current D-tech only takes us so far. And that’s when we have to hope that we can rely on our bodies to alert us that something’s wrong.
So, as much as I sometimes scoff at the idea of relying on the old-school pictures above showing the range of D-symptoms, that’s often what it boils down to when describing a low blood sugar to the general masses. That and maybe I look like Helena Bonham Carter even when it’s clearly not cold outside.
Because personally, it’s usually that Big Chill that’s the first sign of heading down fast.
What say you, D-Peeps? How do you describe a low blood sugar, and what symptoms do you usually see first?
This is our November post in the DSMA Blog Carnival. If you’d like to participate too, you can get all the information at the DSMA website.