Hypoglycemia – Not Just For Diabetics

While lying down, I turned my head and felt dizzy. I turned back, took a few breaths. Then tried to turn my head again. There it was again. Ok, slow down, track breathing, try one more time. Not there this time. Now, try to get up.


An all over the head dizzy spell hit me. Like spinning around when we were kids. I crumbled back down to the bed.

I laid there a few minutes, trying to figure out what was going on. My husband tried to help me lean forward, baby steps toward getting up. Nope, the room lost gravity control and spun. I couldn’t move on my own, let alone stand. He propped one pillow under me as he helped me lay back down.

“Let’s try to figure out what’s going on,” we agreed. The blood pressure cup was called for first. 106 over 60, pulse rate 72. REALLY!? I’ve never had pressure that low, at least not since our second son was born. My normal at rest pulse is always in the upper 80s to lower 90s. Recheck and recheck, each time pressure and pulse is just as low as before within a few points.

I’m feeling so nauseous now. I want to sleep to keep from throwing up. Drank a juice box. No change, at least no appreciable change. We waited. My blood pressure is still low. Drank a protein drink. Now I’m no longer feeling the urge to regurgitate. Things seem to want to stay down now.

Gotta pee. Like a racehorse!

But I’m scared to get up because of the dizziness earlier. With only a minor amount of dizziness and a lot of help from my husband I made it to the bathroom on very slow feet.

Back to bed, now I’m freezing to death. The temperature in the room hasn’t changed, but I can’t stop shivering, my teeth are chattering. Time for cheese and Ritz crackers.

I’m shoveling—well, fighting the urge to shovel—eating those crackers almost faster than my husband can pull them out of the bag and spread on the cheese. After four or five, the shovel reflex dies down. I can hold the cracker in my hand a little longer before cramming it into my mouth.

We checked my blood pressure again. 118 over 78. Pulse: 92. My normal. I feel so much better.


hypoglycemia (Photo credit: Newbirth35)

So what happened? We should have checked: my blood sugar. Apparently, I had suffered a wicked low drop in blood sugar. Worse than I had ever suffered before. That’s why it took a juice box, a protein drink, 7 crackers with cheese and half a glass of milk before I could stand on my own without feeling dizzy.

In 1995, I was prescribed a fasting blood draw. Thank goodness my husband was home. He drove me out there. I hadn’t eaten since super time the night before. It was now 8 in the morning. I had gotten up, had a shower, gotten dressed and helped get our then 2-year-old son ready for the trip to the base. I was feeling weak as we entered the clinic, but was able to do so under my own power, only holding onto my husband’s arm for balance.

I had to wait nearly 30 minutes before being seen. Nobody except my husband seemed to notice how sleepy I was getting. The blood draw didn’t take that long, but the paperwork that followed was another 15 minutes. It was now after 9 and I hadn’t eaten in more than 14 hours yet had been awake and active for the past three. I had absolutely no reserve energy left in my cells.

My husband had to take charge of our son as we went out to the van, I was moving much too slowly at this point. We drove the short distance to Burger King the only place open on a Saturday morning before 10:30. My husband put our son on his shoulders then wrapped an arm around me to help hold me up as I made my way from the parking lot. He deposited me into a chair then went to order.

The smell of the burger and fries made me so nauseous I couldn’t even think of eating. I wanted to put my head down on the table and go to sleep. My husband badgered me until I took my first bite. Once that first bite hit my stomach I was ready to eat, a little too ready. I started cramming the fries into my mouth almost before I finished chewing the ones that were in there before.

I was in shovel mode. I couldn’t help it. There was no control, my brain was telling me to slow down and eat like a lady, a grown up civilized person at the very least, but my body just wanted the glucose from the food, every cell was starving and needed to be fed, all at once. About half way through my burger and fries I was finally able to slow down, my brain was finally in control of my actions.

It would be two weeks before I got the appointment to review the findings from the blood draw.

Airing on Monday, January 2, 1995 and Monday, January 9, 1995 Deep Space Nine episodes #57 and #58 “Past Tense” Parts 1 and 2 showed Dr. Bashir talking to a woman who is sweating, sorry ladies – glistening, in an otherwise freezing room. Her eyelids began to droop, her head began to slump forward, and he asked her, “You have hypoglycemia, don’t you?” Which makes her realize he is a doctor. Wow! I had lived with the condition all my life but it was the first time I had heard it mentioned in anything mainstream.

Gene Hackman’s character, Brill, in Enemy of the State (1998) tells Will Smith’s character, Robert Dean, “I have hypoglycemia. I get a little cranky when my blood sugar is low. I need to eat.” Really? Now it’s in the movies.

Do a search for hypoglycemia and you will find more information than you ever wanted these days. No longer is it considered just a condition occasionally suffered by those with diabetes. No, this is a real condition in and of itself.

Low blood sugar occurs when there is more insulin in the body than glucose. For someone with diabetes, a quick acting sugar followed up by a protein snack and most time times they are right as rain.

But if someone doesn’t have diabetes, how is it that they drop so low? There are actually a few known causes now. For me, I have a pancreas that is simply an over achiever. A normal pancreas will secrete a small amount of insulin all day long, but when we eat, it sends out a larger bust, in correspondence to what is eaten. A higher sugar food will generate a higher amount of insulin release. For the person who suffers hypoglycemia, the pancreas is sending out those much higher amounts of insulin—all the time.

“Just make sure you eat.” That was the wise advice from that army doctor in 1995 as she checked the results of my blood test. My blood sugar on the report was low, in the upper 50s, “But nothing to be worried about.”

Really? I went through all of that just for you to tell me to not worry and make sure I eat regularly. I KNEW I needed to do that. I’ve fallen out more times than I could count which is why I went in to see what was wrong with me and what could be done.

So, I started carrying Power Bars in my purse. Anytime I felt shaky, I would unwrap and down one of those in one sitting. Do you know how many carbohydrates are in one of those bars? They were designed for athletes, those putting out large amounts of physical exertion, not a mildly action active mother of two young boys. Guess where those extra carbs wound up. Uh-huh! Right into my incredibly expanding waste line.

It’s funny how life throws you curves that end up becoming home runs. In 2003 our oldest son fell sick. We figured it was just one of those bugs that was going around school. The weather was starting to change and everyone was getting sick. But this was different. When his stomach finally stopped hurting I had him eat M&M’s. He hadn’t eaten in several hours and with my limited hypoglycemia knowledge I thought a high sugar food would be the first thing he needed. But, the small handful of chocolates made it worse, not better. He almost immediately bent over in pain. I had to get him to the hospital; this was more than just a bug. With a blood sugar level of 867 (normal is around 100 – 120) and nearly slipping into a coma, he was diagnosed with IDDM (Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) or Type 1 diabetes (used to be called juvenile diabetes because of the age of the patients being diagnosed). It’s an autoimmune disease because the body attacks itself. Specifically, the white blood cells in his body had attacked and eroded the insulin producing beta cells on his pancreas. He could no longer process the glucose from the food he was eating; it stayed in his bloodstream turning his blood into a thick paste.

Think of making two pitchers of Kool-aide. Add the correct amount of all the ingredients and you have an easily flowing, thin liquid—blood with a normal sugar level. Now mix the powder with the right amount of sugar, but only about one third of the required water. It’s still a liquid, but an incredibly thick liquid. You could just about stand a spoon in it upright. That’s how the glucose-laden blood moved through his veins.

Eating more meant adding more glucose onto his red blood cells, making his blood thicker. Without the insulin production, even though he was eating, the cells in his body were still starving. His body began eating itself and producing ketones—a natural, but poisonous by product of burning fat cells within the body. He had lost over 10% of his body weight in just a couple of days.

That night was the worst night of our lives as parents, but it set us onto a path of discovery. March 9th will be his 10th anniversary of living healthy with diabetes.

We had a lot to learn in those first few days, weeks, and months. How to count the carbohydrates in his food and how to work out insulin to carbohydrate ratios as well as insulin to blood sugar level ratios for a start. We learned the proper way to treat a low blood sugar with a small amount of a quick acting sugar followed by a reasonably sized, high protein snack.

Wait a minute! If that works for our son, will it work for me? YES! It’s amazing how using this method of treatment for lows helped me to drop the 30 extra pounds those overkill, reactionary fixes had packed onto my frame.

Symptoms of a low blood sugar can include: dizziness, crankiness, sudden intense sadness or anger, shakiness, sweating or freezing (in an otherwise comfortable environment), disorientation, nausea, sleepiness (an uncontrollable urge to sleep), and extreme hunger.

I have experienced low blood sugar episodes ever since I can remember, even before I knew there was a name for it. Over the years I have had most of these symptoms at different moments, but the other day was the first time I ever felt the dizziness. I’d rather not feel it again any time soon.


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Paul
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 10:35:22

    Hi Dawn,

    The symptoms certainly sound familiar & I’m glad you seem to be finding a way to cope with it, I’ll admit I never thought about hypos outside of diabetes. Both myself & my wife have T1 diabetes but our hypo symptoms (& how we manage them) are very different & yours seem closer to her symptoms than mine.

    I can’t or won’t eat when hypo, I mean I really refuse & I act like a spoilt petulant toddler! (not the best situation when you may need a strangers help!).

    I used to carry mints (polos) or dextrose tablets but I now carry a ‘fun’ size full fat Coca-Cola with me about 120ml bottle just enough to rapidly get me sane again w/o drawing too much adverse attention.

    Due to this I rarely get the over eating thing… I say rarely because sometimes I do & when that happens the shop/restaurant I’m closest to gets to close early due to the amount of food I buy… The wife tends to hypo like this a lot more & I know it’ll be bad as she’ll then oscillate like an undamped spring for the next few hours!

    “Symptoms of a low blood sugar can include: dizziness, crankiness, sudden intense sadness or anger” – yep, as anyone who reads my Twitter feed will know!


    • makergoddess
      Mar 10, 2013 @ 13:21:52

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your great comment!

      Many people don’t think that you can have low blood sugar episodes without having diabetes. Most doctors didn’t even recognize it as its own condition until about a decade ago.

      When I tell people that I need to eat on a regular schedule to keep my blood sugar up the first question I almost always get is, “Oh, do you have diabetes?” A little frustrating to be sure. Almost on par with the inflammatory comment I used to get in the early days of our oldest son’s diagnosis of Type 1, “Did you feed him a lot of sugar when he was young?” *face palm*

      You should ask my husband about all the times he’s had to get in my face and just about shove food down my throat. It was never pretty, but it had to be done. Over treating a low can cause such a vicious cycle sometimes, which is why I’m so glad we found better ways to treat my symptoms.

      I now use protein drinks in between meals to help regulate my levels during the workweek. My students ask me at the beginning of every year why I drink them. My first answer is, “So you don’t have to pick me up off the floor.” It makes them laugh. Then I explain that I need to have a snack everyday and I can either eat in front of them and try to teach at the same time, or I have this drink. I ask them which would they rather see, and they always vote for the drink.

      I also have two key chain glucose tab holders, one on my work key ring and one on my car key ring. Just in case the moment hits out of the blue.


  2. Trackback: The Low-Down on Low Blood Sugar: Hypoglycemia 101 | My Diabetes Home blog
    • makergoddess
      Apr 02, 2013 @ 10:02:01

      Thank you for including my blog post in your related articles list.

      I agree with everything Alli said in the interview. It is tough to not take out your mood swings on those closest to you. And when it hits that point it is also hard to see the low blood sugar episode for what it is and know what to do to treat it.

      I am fortunate that my husband can tell just by looking at me that my sugar is low and he takes steps to get me to treat it without starting a fight.

      Stay tuned for another related blog post on traveling in tour groups with hypoglycemia. 🙂


  3. Naomi Baltuck
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 02:03:15

    So glad you recognized the problem, and are managing it. Best wishes to you and your son.


  4. Danno
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 17:37:03


    • makergoddess
      Jun 02, 2013 @ 08:38:49

      Dan, thank you so much for putting that video together! I must admit I was a little worried by the first few seconds, maybe a tittle page at the very beginning might help those of us in the older generation prepare for the shock. LOL All in all it was full of wonderful information.

      The fortunate thing is that today, more and more doctors are becoming aware that this condition can exist outside of diabetes. And patients don’t have to go through what I did back in the early 90s. The unfortunate thing though is that many older Americans who have lived with it all their lives and are now looking for answers are immediately misdiagnosed with pre-diabetes by their general practitioners.

      The hardest thing for me is when my blood sugar drops my mental functions seem to go with it, along with lack of positive control of my body. Sometimes I can appear to be drunk. Sometimes I just slump over and fall asleep. These are hard things to deal with when you are a control freak.

      I always carry glucose tabs in a small container I got at a diabetes conference on my car key chain and my work key chain. Even though I eat a very sensible diet, high in protein and complex carbs, I never know when an extra amount of physical activity will come and drop my blood sugar.

      My youngest son, now 14 years old, also has hypoglycemia. We manage it well now, but I worry about him when he moves out. He gets combative when he goes low. I can only hope that he can find his very own Matt. Many cudos to your friend for looking out for you as he does.


  5. Moorlife Promo
    Dec 16, 2015 @ 02:16:18

    Useful information. Lucky me I found your site by chance, and I
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    • makergoddess
      Dec 16, 2015 @ 11:06:42

      I am so glad you found it helpful!! I loved with the conditioned for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that a doctor told me what it was and then just said make sure I eat. Some heath plan! Odd how life gives you lemons to make lemonade though. Learning how to help my son with his type 1 diabetes helped me manage my hypoglycemia. Feel free to contact me any time you need to talk to someone about this condition. **Disclaimer—I’m NOT a licensed medical doctor, I just have this condition and did my research. 🙂


  6. Hallie
    Feb 15, 2016 @ 22:41:37

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  7. Hubert
    Mar 01, 2016 @ 00:35:34

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  8. Thora
    Jan 09, 2017 @ 08:43:03

    I started experiencing these symptoms this weekend and am so glad you shared your story. Thank you so much!


    • makergoddess
      Jan 10, 2017 @ 05:19:46

      Thora, Thank you for your comment. I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how to treat these symptoms responsibly. Still, I would encourage you to visit your doctor and request an A1c blood test because the symptoms just started.


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