Contrary to popular belief you do NOT have to be a diabetic to experience symptoms of hypoglycemia.
In fact, your doctor could have run “all the tests” and pronounced you “healthy”, yet Dr. Internet and all your well-meaning holistically inclined friends may be suggesting that you are not well and you may be showing low blood sugar symptoms. Could your friends be right and your doctor wrong?
Doctors frequently misdiagnose low blood sugar symptoms
There is massive confusion about which symptoms are caused by low blood sugar. Your medical doctor may categorically deny that you have problems, until you actually meet medical diagnostic criteria of hypoglycemia. Your blood glucose must be below 4 mmgl/L (below 72 mg/dL) or your doctor will not send you home with nothing.
Even if you describe the classic signs of hypoglycemia your doctor, in the absence of valid lab results, may completely miss the diagnosis. It is not uncommon that headaches, fatigue, or forgetfulness are mistakenly seen by less astute health practitioners as separate and sugar-unrelated problems, to be treated with painkillers, energy drinks or are simply discounted as menopausal symptoms.
Test glucose at the time you actually have signs of hypoglycemia
Three quarters of North American adults have some kind of a problem with sugar regulation, but only a very small percentage is properly diagnosed. The reason why your doctor is adamant that your sweats, shakes, or blurry vision has nothing to do with low blood glucose is because he is testing you at the wrong time.
Blood glucose numbers fluctuate all the time, so do not be surprised if you get completely different test readings within half hour of each other. The timing of the test is of utmost importance to properly diagnose low glucose, so do not be discouraged that your doctor is dismissive of your suspicions. He was simply not around when you had your symptoms. Get your own kit.
Low blood sugar can be caused by stress, any stress
Low blood sugar symptoms do not have to occur after you have been on a fast for a day or two. Neither do you have to be a diabetic to have hypoglycemic problems. Dips in blood glucose are very common and in fact, if you experienced a sugar crash, you have experienced low blood sugar symptoms.
Signs of hypoglycemia can occur at any time of the day and may not have anything to do with the candy binge an hour prior. Low blood sugar follows extra insulin release and that follows cortisol release which is triggered by stress. For that reason symptoms of plummeting sugar can be experienced by students during exam time, by spouses involved in a domestic conflict, and even by unsuspecting food connoisseur after a meal containing incompatible foods.
How to track signs of hypoglycemia
You want to prevent hypoglycemic events, not just because they are unpleasant, but because they may be your first sign of potential pre-diabetes. Knowing hypoglycemic triggers can save you many trips to your doctor as well as delay or more importantly prevent diabetes.
Keep a journal. Record your symptoms together with meals and events preceding the symptoms. Your job is to make a correlation between these events and low blood sugar symptoms. Once you recognize the triggers you can modify or avoid them completely.
Below is a list of details your journal should contain and a simplified solution for each trigger. Here are the details you should pay attention to:
1. Type and amount of carbohydrates eaten an hour or two prior;
if carbohydrate meals are the trigger you may have to stick to small portions of low glycemic index foods
2. Drinks, foods and food combinations that repeatedly evoke hypoglycemic reaction;
if you found a suspicious pattern with a specific food you may want to test yourself for food sensitivities or allergies
3. Type of exercise, timing and intensity prior to symptoms;
you may have to change your exercise routine or include complex carbohydrate snack before exercise
4. Skipped meals and length of time since the last meal was consumed;
you may have to support your liver, an organ responsible for sugar release, or initially increase frequency of your meals
5. Emotional stressors: quarrels, conflicts, frustration, anger, worry, etc. experienced before the symptoms;
you may have to look into stress management techniques or focus on nutrients supporting nervous system
Low blood sugar symptoms you need to look out for
- Nervousness, anxiety
- Palpitations, racing heart
- Sweating, especially hands
- Feeling of coldness, cold hands and feet
- Hunger, cravings for sweets
- Moodiness, crying, irritability
- Poor coordination, clumsiness
- Confusion, memory problems
- Fatigue, lethargy, weakness, daydreaming
Do not make the mistake thinking that ALL symptoms have to be present, to consider impaired glucose metabolism. A presence of even just one symptom frequently enough may warrant further investigation. Be aware that prescription drugs can mask all warning signs of hypoglycemia. Do not rely on symptoms alone if you are on medication.
Test for low blood sugar without lab work
You can do an at-home-test if you suspect your symptoms are related to insufficient glucose. All you need to do is to eat, and preferably a high carbohydrate snack or meal when you experience low blood sugar symptoms.
Symptoms due to low glucose will go away shortly after eating. If this trick works do not use it to remedy the symptoms, but use it only for testing. Sugary and high carbohydrate snacks or meals will only aggravate hypoglycemia over time.
Although you may be delighted by your discovery, do not forget that a permanent cure for hypoglycemia is not remedied by copious amounts of candy, but rather by restoration of liver to its full capacity and prevention of unnecessary insulin surges. Take care of your health and you will never have to worry about low blood sugar symptoms again.