Most people associate all blood sugar episodes with Diabetes, but there is a nonDiabetic condition that can cause chronic low blood sugar, that also includes seizures. The condition is called “Reactive Hypoglycemia.” It can come along with Diabetes but there is another version “Non-Diabetic Reactive Hypoglycemia” and that can start as early as teen years for some (maybe younger, I had my first episode in high school).
The way my former endocrinologist described Reactive Hypo to me was that I could fast for a period of time but if I ate foods higher on the glycemic index without balancing them out right with protein and fats, I would crash. I had a major seizure at work after eating a high dairy baked potato. It was supposed to be fish, baked potato and broccoli but my kids ate the fish and broccoli off my plate and I ended up having just the potato. I didn’t think much about it and headed on to work. A couple hours into my shift, I noticed I no longer felt hunger pangs.
Within minutes, I was pouring sweat- hot on one side; felt like I was on fire. The other side felt frozen and I was clammy in a cold sweat. My hearing amplified but I could also barely hear. My chest started hurting and I was too shaky to hold anything steady. I finally developed tunnel vision and by then was able to get a hold of a manager to help me get something to eat. My husband picked me up and took me to the ER where they ran a few faked tests then told me I wasn’t having a heart attack, it was just a panic attack. By that time, I was calmed down because I ate. I spoke to my doctor later and he told me it was a blood sugar seizure.
After he told me, I researched it and spoke to my endocrinologist about it. She was finally able to give me some dietary tips, but nothing I hadn’t already known. These episodes are normal for me if I don’ t watch what I eat, but it was nice to know what it was, that it had a name and that I could research it a little.
What are blood sugar seizures?
Blood sugar seizures happen when your blood sugar drops too low. Diabetics can also have seizures if their blood sugar goes too high. Normally a reactive seizure (or non-Epileptic seizure) happens when your sugar drops below 30. By that point, you need to bring it up or you can go into a coma and without correcting, it can be deadly at that level.
These types of seizures are caused by your body not having enough sugar in your blood to help your brain function. They are not related to Epilepsy but can run alongside Epilepsy, According to a UK Diabetes site, the two can commonly occur together side by side- Type 1, specifically and there may be an autoimmune link. With that overlap, there may be confusion when people have blood sugar spikes or drops and go into a seizure. The primary way to tell the difference is if eating or taking sugar pills can help come out of the seizure.
What are the Symptoms of Diabetic/Hypoglycemic Seizures?
The symptoms vary depending on the severity of the drop. I know first hand that my body gives me warning for at least an hour before it drops.
These are my personal symptoms leading up to seizures
- Violent hunger- my stomach will start aching and growling loud and often
- Hunger suddenly stops- here is where I know I need to eat or else. I’ll stop having all signs of being hungry
- The drop- typically happens suddenly and very fast. Lightheadedness is the first symptom
- Vision difficulties
- Numbness and tingling
- zoning out
- If I have gone this long without eating, I’ll be needing to sit down or rest from whatever I’m doing- I’m too shaky and it will be extremely difficult for me to stand up.
- This is around the time the seizure starts- I almost never make it this far. If I do make it to the shakiness it won’t be long until I find some kind of sugar to raise my levels
- Last seizure I had: I developed tunnel vision, lost peripheral vision, everything looked strange overall, I was numb, felt like one side of my body was on fire while the other side was frozen- and I was sweating on both sides, I was slurring my speech, I was shaking uncontrollably, pale, my eyes even lighten up from a dark brown/black to a very light golden brown.
- Any longer and I’ll faint but I never get to this point.
Traditional Hypoglycemic Symptoms
According to endocrine.org, symptoms of mild hypoglycemia happen when levels drop below 70.
Moderate symptoms occur when levels dip below 55, they are
- trouble speaking
Seizures and coma happen when levels dip below 50.
What Can You Do About Hypoglycemia?
What is there that you can do about hypoglycemia before they lead to seizures? It’s actually a very simple solution and doesn’t have to be disabling or inconvenient in any way. If you make a few simple changes to your diet, you can typically avoid having strong symptoms.
Carry snacks with you at all times. If you can’t always grab something to eat, the Diabetes supply section of the pharmacy in many grocers and other pharmacy stores have blood glucose tabs. They aren’t very expensive and easily can fit in a car glove box or purse. When you start to feel an episode and you’re out, all you need is to pop a tab and dissolve it in your mouth. One tab should help in most cases.
Ways to work your diet:
- High protein
- Low (bad) complex carbs
- Low starch
- Low white foods (bleached flour, white rice, white potatoes)
- Use sweet potatoes instead of regular
- Even out carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats
- If you’re diabetic, talk to your doctor about the Keto diet. It was specially created for Diabetics and may work for you. Of course, you’re looking at going on a medical diet so make sure you’re working hand in hand with a medical professional.
I was told that I don’t need to avoid any particular foods, I can eat any of those- carbs or sugars but to make sure I always even out with a lot of protein.
When it comes to blood sugar, most people will have a time or two with low swings. It can be when you’re exercising heavily and haven’t ate well enough or it could be during a time you’re too stressed to eat properly. If you start finding that normal foods- sandwiches, baked potatoes and similar foods are making you feel hungrier or numb, it might be good to bring it up to your doctor. Food is supposed to help us and not hurt and when a particular food crashes your blood sugar, it’s worth talking to the doctor.
Even when the solution is as simple as carrying sugar pills and eating healthier, it could be warning you that you’re developing Diabetes or another blood sugar disorder or it could put you at a higher risk. Being monitored (A1C) is a good idea, as well as talking to your PCP about diet.