How to Overcome the Fear of Hypoglycemia
If you’re managing Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, most days you have a lot on your plate (in the figurative sense, of course!). Managing diabetes is a full-time responsibility and, at times, it can feel overwhelming for many individuals and families.
After all, daily finger pricks and blood sugar tests, as well as administering insulin by syringe or insulin pen, and other medication on schedule can add a whole new level of anxiety to an otherwise normal day.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that people with diabetes are 20% more likely to suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives than individuals without the disease.
One of the more common causes of anxiety among those living with diabetes is an inflated fear of hypoglycemia. In some ways, this concern is warranted. Sudden drops in blood sugar are relatively common among those with diabetes, particularly those who rely on insulin and other medications to regulate blood glucose levels. Hypoglycemia, if left untreated, can lead to symptoms, including sudden mood swings and feelings of agitation. This unusually low blood sugar can also cause a person to lose consciousness, and, in extreme cases, lead to a diabetic coma and even death.
Hypoglycemia is certainly nothing to shrug off. Being vigilant is a good thing. It’s when concern develops into irrational fear that hypoglycemia can have debilitating consequences on someone’s quality of life.
What is Fear of Hypoglycemia?
According to the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Mental Health Workbook, being concerned about hypoglycemia is both rational and adaptive. It keeps a person attentive and responsive to hypoglycemic symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat, sweating, trembling, dizziness, and confusion.
Fear of hypoglycemia occurs when this rational concern escalates into excessive fear of experiencing a low blood sugar episode. Fear is both disproportionate to the actual risk of a sudden drop in blood sugar, and to the actual dangers a drop might imply.
The fact is for most people a drop in blood sugar can be easily remedied with a small piece of candy, a cup of fruit juice, or a 15mg glucose tablet (it’s always a good idea to carry glucose tabs as they can help put any excessive fears about hypoglycemia to rest).
How Does Fear of Hypoglycemia Manifest?
This is actually a very interesting question. According to an article posted at healthcentral.com, there are two primary categories of people who develop fear of hypoglycemia.
One group is made up of individuals who have experienced a severe low blood sugar episode in the past – one that has required the administering of glucagon, a synthetic form of the body’s natural hormone used to treat extreme cases of hypoglycemia, or that has led to hospitalization. These individuals are actually suffering from a form of PTSD related to the trauma.
The other category of individuals who develop fear of hypoglycemia have never experienced a dangerous blood sugar drop. Instead, they’ve probably read about them, been warned by their physician to watch for them, or heard from someone else with diabetes who has had an episode. For whatever reason, these people internalized this, and it becomes an irrational fear.
In either case, it’s important for a person to be able to take a breath and carefully assess the situation. For instance, if a person has experienced a severe low, it’s important to examine what caused it. What could have been done differently? How can it be avoided in the future? Was this a rare occurrence or is it happening often?
Applying a little thoughtful logic to the situation can help a person regain control and confidence when it comes to avoiding severe hypoglycemia, and therefore reduce fear and anxiety levels.
Can You Identify Fear of Hypoglycemia?
People with diabetes who suffer from fear of hypoglycemia often exhibit certain telltale behaviors. According to the ADA, this fear can present itself in a variety of ways with some of the more common signs to look for being:
Over-compensatory behavior leading to periods of high blood sugar
One of the main signs someone might have an overwhelming fear of hypoglycemia is a willingness to live with blood sugar levels beyond their target range. A person might go as far as taking less insulin than they need to control blood sugar. They may snack more often just to add those extra carbs into the bloodstream to be sure they don’t experience a sudden drop in blood sugar. The fear of experiencing hypoglycemia is dictating that they live with high blood sugar, which increases the risk of other diabetes-related complications, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and nerve damage.
A person might also avoid everyday activities because of the fear they might lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar. For instance, they might skip working out or other physical activity because they’re worried it might lower blood sugar too dramatically. They might avoid social situations in which a sudden drop could lead to embarrassing behavior in public, or, conversely, they might be afraid to be alone just in case a hypoglycemic episode does occur in which assistance may be necessary.
Acceptance of high blood sugar levels
While most people with diabetes will take the appropriate measures to lower blood sugar when they test high, someone who experiences fear of hypoglycemia may feel content living with a high reading, which again elevates the risk of other diabetes-related complications.
Refusal to adhere to physician’s recommendations
Another sign someone might be feeling excessive anxiety over hypoglycemia is ignoring doctor recommendations when it comes to their diabetes management program.
Excessive blood sugar testing
Perhaps the most common sign that someone might be experiencing a fear of hypoglycemia is excessive blood sugar testing. We all know that regular testing is a part of a healthy diabetes plan and necessary to maintain proper blood sugar control. But testing too often is usually a sign that there’s some anxiety present. If you’re using a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device, checking your blood sugar readings more often than you need to isn’t necessarily a problem in itself. If you’re relying on finger pricks and glucose meters, however, excessive testing can lead to added pain and discomfort around the testing site.
There’s a fine line between being vigilant with your diabetes management plan and being ruled by the fear of experiencing hypoglycemia. If you or someone you love is exhibiting any of the signs mentioned above, it’s time to sit down with your diabetes physician and have a frank conversation. For most people, talking things out with a trusted doctor can allay much of those fears. Other individuals may need to address the problem with a mental health professional who understands the challenges of living with diabetes. Regardless, when fear impacts healthy diabetes management, the situation can’t be ignored. Get help and take back control.
We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping those with diabetes manage blood sugar with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at prices up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.