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How to Recognize and Treat Hypoglycemia-Related Anxiety

Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
How to Recognize and Treat Hypoglycemia-Related Anxiety

Hypoglycemia and anxiety are conditions that in some cases may be closely related. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a condition usually accompanying diabetes. The symptoms of hypoglycemia are similar enough to those of anxiety to make it easy to mistake for hypoglycemia for an anxiety disorder or attack. While hypoglycemia symptoms are a result of the bodily stress it induces, it requires different treatment and preventative techniques than standalone anxiety.

Though anxiety and hypoglycemia are related, an anxiety disorder cannot cause hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, however, can cause anxiety. It is important to be able to distinguish anxiety from a hypoglycemia so that your symptoms can be treated in a timely manner.

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 be anxious. 

Hypoglycemia, whether severe or mild, can result in a variety of symptoms commonly recognized as the result of anxiety. These include:

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:

If you are experiencing any of these in addition to your other anxiety symptoms, you should take the preliminary step of eating something to help regulate your blood sugar. It is recommended that you go see your doctor as soon as possible to be tested for hypoglycemia.  

Ruling Out Hypoglycemia

If you are worried that your anxiety symptoms 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 episode of intense anxiety symptoms. This is because after one of these events, 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.

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 eating can also be an effect of an anxiety disorder and should not be encouraged as it can become an unhealthy coping mechanism).

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, excluding certain food groups from your diet, 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 a professional such as your primary care doctor or a nutritionist. 

How to Prevent Anxiety Over Hypoglycemia

Most likely, if you haven't already been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, you're simply experiencing anxiety. It's perfectly normal to feel as though your anxiety symptoms must be the result of a health problem, and not anxiety, since in many cases anxiety mimics serious health concerns.

Anxiety is more common than many of the health disorders it mimics and unfortunately people with anxiety commonly experiencing health anxiety which may cause further concern over the symptoms they experience.

Article Resources
  1. 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.
  2. Gorman, Jack M., et al. Hypoglycemia and panic attacks. Am J Psychiatry 141 (1984): 101-102.
  3. 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. 
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