Experiencing a diabetic low (hypoglycemia)

What a hypoglycemic attack is like?

Many people may wonder (even some new diabetics) what a hypoglycemia attack or a diabetic low  feels like.  I’ve had many of them and while I’ve never been so low as to lose consciousness or require hospitalization, none of them have been any fun.

What is a diabetic “low”?

An image of a blood glucose meter showing 48
An image of a blood glucose meter showing 48

Low blood sugar (glucose) can result from several things:

  • Lack of food
  • Exercising without eating to replace carbs burned
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Medications, even diabetic medications
  • Certain illnesses and disorders

My lows tend to be from not eating enough and then taking my regular insulin injections.  This then brings my blood glucose levels down below 70 on my meter.  Most (actually all of the time) times I can recognize the feelings of my BGL going down and know what is coming.  When that happens, I can check my level earlier and catch it before it gets too low.

However, many of my lows occur in the wee hours of the morning from 1 am to 4 am and I wake up sweating and realize what is happening.  These episodes can be quite scary at times.  I begin to shake and feel a sense of panic coming on.  I fumble with my test strips and my meter.  Ever now and then I wake my husband because I’m afraid I may pass out, but usually I get a banana or a small glass of juice and wait it out.

Symptoms of low blood sugar (glucose)

Some of the common symptoms of low blood glucose are:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Hunger
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Tremor,
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Seizure (convulsions)
  • Passing out
  • Coma
  • Death

Yes, low blood sugar can cause severe damage, even death if not attended to promptly and correctly.

How I experience a low blood glucose event.

An anime image of person sweating
An anime image of person sweating

Whenever I have had a low glucose event, I first notice that I start to feel different, maybe like a little upset tummy or tummy ache, then I will notice I begin to sweat.  Sometimes my sweating is so extreme that I soak my clothing or wake up from sleep with my gown stuck to me and my hair wet.  Then I begin to shake and have tremors, not just my hands but all over.  I feel anxious and panicky.

I’m hungry and know I must eat something. Its hard to hold my glucose rescue tablets in my hands or open the container to get one out.  I shake when I pour juice into a glass.  Yet all this time, I feel slow and sleepy too.
Thankfully, my body always wakes me up during a low or I would not be here today to write this article.  During a low, I am telling myself to get something to eat even before I check my blood sugar with my meter.  But most of the time I can hold off a few seconds while I test and find out what my level is.  I’ve gotten down into the 40’s before and fortunately stayed awake enough to take food or my rescue tablets.
Sometimes I’ve woken my husband or mother-in-law up just in case I faint or lose consciousness.  Luckily that hasn’t happened and I hope never does.  Once I drink some orange juice or eat something I sit and wait 15 minutes to check my blood glucose levels once again.  But I may still feel panicky long after my blood glucose begins to rise.  So its important to check my levels again so I know when to stop eating.  Otherwise I can eat so much I raise my levels too high.  I have done that before and had my blood sugar go over 300 which is bad and harmful to my body.
One thing I’ve found is that the next day I feel very tired from the moment I wake up.  I say next day because most of my lows occur at night between 2-4am.  Although I have had a few lows during the day and always feel like I need to nap after my levels are back to normal.
My personal  “GO TO” food for treating a low is eating a banana or drinking some orange juice or regular milk.  When I don’t have those, I keep some glucose rescue tablets around and I take two of them and then check 15 minutes later.
I try to avoid eating candy to bring my levels up because that can too easily raise my levels too high and that can put me on a roller coaster with my blood glucose levels.   Once or twice I have been out and about and had to resort to a regular soft drink from a fast food place.  I usually never drink non-diet drinks.  Even then I drink only part of the regular soda because they are so sugar filled.

Make a Plan

You should always have a plan for when (not if – it will probably for sure happen one day if you are diabetic) your blood glucose drops too low.  At home I like to keep bananas around.  I also keep rescue tablets in my purse and in my car.  I recommend you get some of these to keep with you also.  I always take them with me when I am exercising.  I like to swim for exercise, so when I go to the pool, I take my container of rescue tablets and put them on a table by the pool or in my beach bag (I don’t leave them in the locker room) – that’s too far away.   I have had a low when I’ve been participating in water aerobics and was so glad I could just step out of the pool and reach for my tablets.  Definitely that saved the day for me.
Its always nice to keep some orange juice around the house too – as a small glass of that works very well to bring a low up.
I’ve heard about people who are unaware when they are having a blood glucose drop and that is a serious situation.  I hope these people make sure their family and friends know about their diabetes and what to do should they become ill and begin to lose consciousness.  A medical alert bracket is great for this also.
One interesting thing some diabetes do is training their dog to recognize when they have highs and lows and to alert them to the problem so they can help themselves before it gets too serious.  I have thought about training my own dog and I’ve purchased a training book for him but not yet really tried to train yet.
In any case, low blood glucose or hyperglycemia is very serious and can even be fatal, so make sure you are ready to deal with a low when it happens.


Thanks for looking at my site and coming to this page. I would love for you to leave any questions or comments below.  In addition, I’m open to new topics to research and comment on as they pertain to my own health and experience living with diabetes.  Please share your interests and questions in your comments.  I also love to hear others stories about how they handle their own diabetes issues.

– Shirley

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