Across the board, a low blood sugar seems to be considered as anything under 70 mg/dL. Revisiting the American Diabetes Association’s website this morning offers up a list of symptoms of low blood sugar, like:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sweating, chills and clamminess
- Irritability or impatience
- Confusion, including delirium
- Rapid/fast heartbeat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Hunger and nausea
- Blurred/impaired vision
- Tingling or numbness in the lips or tongue
- Weakness or fatigue
- Anger, stubbornness, or sadness
- Lack of coordination
- Nightmares or crying out during sleep
(As with most diabetes-related lists on the Internet, the further down the list you read, the worse shit seems to get.) The “what happens if a low blood sugar goes untreated” answer is short, and to the point: “If left untreated, hypoglycemia may lead to a seizure or unconsciousness (passing out, a coma). In this case, someone else must take over.”
When my daughter hears my Dexcom beeping, she understands the difference between the alert signaling a high blood sugar and the alert signaling a low. If the high alarm goes off, she doesn’t react, but if the low alarm goes off, she perks up immediately and asks me if I need a “glupose tab.” The immediacy and seriousness of low blood sugars is noticed by my three year old because she’s seen me go from normal, functional Mom to confused, sweaty, and tangled-in-my-own-words Mom in a matter of minutes.
The symptoms of low blood sugars don’t just vary from PWD to PWD, but often vary within the PWD’s own lifetime. When I was very small, my low blood sugar “tell” was when my mouth would go numb and my face felt like I’d had Novocaine hours earlier and it was just starting to wear off, with that tingly, prickly feeling. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of lows with varying symptoms:
“My brain is fully functioning. I know words. I know sounds. I know exactly what I need to do and what the number 42 means but my body has betrayed me and won’t move as I have asked, like I was a robot who had been over-oiled.” – Sad Robot
A video during which I went low.
“My mouth isn’t even mine. It’s just this thing, this portal to shove giant sugar tablets into. I can’t work up the saliva to chew, so the tab sits in my mouth until it starts to dissolve a little, and then my body remembers what to do with it. ‘Chew the damn thing.’ Tragedy of a low – no saliva. Nothing to help mince these tabs down into something useful.” – Bullets
“‘Thanks, and could I please have a small orange juice, without ice, as quickly as you can? Thanks so much,’ I said to the host in one breath, hypoglycemia filling up all the space around my head like the Radiohead video for No Surprises. A minute or two later, a glass of orange juice was on the table. I drained it in a few gulps.” - Reduced to Rubble
“I remember my mom sitting on the kitchen floor with me, breaking graham crackers into smaller bites and putting them in my mouth, dinner burning in pans on the stove. I remember my mom’s eyes being very wide but she wasn’t crying. I remember a glass of juice. I remember it was hard to chew because I was crying but I wasn’t sure why, and then there’s a sharp edit in my memory, where I don’t have any recollection of what happened next.” – Memories
No two lows feel or look the same, but a few grams of carbohydrate (plus the willpower to wait) can swiftly save the day. With quick recognition and treatment, lows pass as quickly as they come on (most of the time) but they are always in the back of my mind. When it comes to diabetes concerns, the fear of hypoglycemia has been constant for the last twenty-seven years. My purse is never (okay, rarely, but never without on purpose) without glucose tabs, and I’ve had the “this is glucagon, and here’s how to use it” conversation with more people than I can count.
What are your low blood sugar symptoms?