Hypoglycemia and anxiety are conditions that are closely interrelated. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a condition usually accompanying diabetes whose symptoms make it easy to mistake for an anxiety disorder or attack. While hypoglycemia's symptoms are a result of the bodily anxiety it induces, it requires different treatment and preventative techniques than regular anxiety.
Though anxiety and hypoglycemia are interrelated, an anxiety condition cannot cause hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, however, is a significant cause of anxiety, and it is important to be able to distinguish anxiety from a hypoglycemic attack so that it can be treated in a timely manner.
Are You Worrying Too Much?
Hypoglycemia can cause anxiety as a symptom, and those that have it may be concerned about their hypoglycemia to the point where they develop anxiety. If you haven't yet, take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety severity and see how to control it.
Signs of Hypoglycemia-Related Anxiety (vs. Regular Anxiety)
It's not uncommon to have health concerns that can be caused by or related to anxiety. In some cases, people believe that their anxiety symptoms must be a health problem. In others, a health problem can cause people to worry. Find out more by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test now.
Extreme hypoglycemia, as well as mildly low blood sugar, can result in a variety of symptoms recognizable as anxiety. These include:
- Heart palpitations (rapid or irregular heartbeat)
- Paleness, cold/clammy skin
- Seeing flashes of light.
- Dilated pupils (a common fear-response symptom)
- Negative attitude
- Exaggeration of relatively minor problems
All these symptoms match up to what you would expect to see or experience during an anxiety attack. However, hypoglycemia is also often accompanied by symptoms that do not appear in regular anxiety attacks or conditions, including the following:
Slurred speech, can be mistaken for drunkenness
Blank look, zombie-like behavior
If you are experiencing any of these in addition to your other anxiety symptoms, you should take the preliminary step of eating something and go see your doctor as soon as possible so they can arrange to perform a blood test. The reality is that the two really do share a lot in common. There's no harm in seeing a doctor, but anxiety is much more common.
Ruling Out Hypoglycemia
If you are worried that your anxiety may be caused by hypoglycemia, you should check with your doctor as soon as possible in order to be sure. To officially rule out hypoglycemia, a blood test is required. However, the blood test should NOT be performed immediately after an attack. This is because after an attack your blood sugar may already be dangerously low, and needs time to recover to prevent further attacks.
A test for hypoglycemia involves a 12-hour fast, after which the doctor can take a sample of your blood and find out whether it has reached dangerously low levels of glucose (the sugar in your blood that provides you with energy). Try to calm yourself during this time - waiting for this type of test can create its own anxiety, and often hunger and thirst contribute to anxiety as well. Try to stay relaxed and busy.
How to Treat Hypoglycemia-Related Anxiety
A hypoglycemic attack is no fun, and it is hard to function during it. However, whether you are having a regular anxiety attack or a hypoglycemic attack, it is perfectly safe to eat something to raise your blood sugar levels in either case.
If you find yourself having to do this often (and find that it helps), you probably have hypoglycemia, but it is always best to do to a doctor to be sure (as stress easting can also be an effect of an anxiety disorder and should not be encouraged if it is being used in a harmful manner).
How to Prevent Hypoglycemia-Related Anxiety
If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, an excess of insulin (a medication that lowers your blood sugar) may be causing your hypoglycemia. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dosage of insulin.
Otherwise, eating regular, healthy meals is crucial in maintaining the correct levels of blood sugar in your body. Going on a new fad diet, taking up veganism without the proper instruction in how to maintain all the nutrients your body needs, or starving yourself to lose weight are all common ways for anxiety to sneak into your life when you don't need it.
When making a dietary change, be sure that you get advice from professionals or other (healthy) people on the diet, talk to a nutritionist or read books on health to help you stay healthy and happy.
How to Prevent Anxiety Over Hypoglycemia
Most likely, if you haven't already been diagnose with hypoglycemia, you're simply suffering from anxiety. It's perfectly normal to feel as though your anxiety symptoms must be the result of a health problem, and not anxiety, since the two share so many commonalities.
But anxiety is more common, and unfortunately one of the symptoms is "health anxiety." It's very, very common to experience severe health concerns as a symptom of your own anxiety, making your worries natural. That's why you will need to learn to control anxiety if you want these symptoms to go away.
I've helped many people with anxiety related to hypoglycemia, and I strongly suggest you start with my free anxiety test. This test is a great way to learn more about your anxiety and start learning to cure it.
Wild, Diane, et al. A critical review of the literature on fear of hypoglycemia in diabetes: Implications for diabetes management and patient education . Patient education and counseling 68.1 (2007): 10-15.
Gorman, Jack M., et al. Hypoglycemia and panic attacks. Am J Psychiatry 141 (1984): 101-102.
Irvine, Audrey A., Daniel Cox, and Linda Gonder-Frederick. Fear of hypoglycemia: relationship to physical and psychological symptoms in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus . Health Psychology 11.2 (1992): 135.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.