Tuesday, August 4, 2009

“Fact of Life” #1: Blood Sugar Lows

One of the hardest things for people who love someone with type 1 diabetes is dealing with the blood sugar lows that happen on a fairly regular basis. Over time we may get used to them, and get more competent at helping our loved one come back to normal levels more quickly. We also become experts at recognizing the signs that a low is imminent, if not already happening (for me it’s all in the eyes!). Since my husband was diagnosed with type 1 in 1997 and keeps his diabetes in very tight control, we’ve been through many, many low episodes – some worse than others.

Over the last 12 years I’ve learned some very important lessons – what I call “How to Keep Your Head When Your Type 1 Spouse is Losing Theirs in a Low”… here they are:

  • Don’t panic – you freaking out can cause the person extra stress which can actually make them go lower … so hang in there, and project a calm face if you can … even if you’re absolutely faking it

  • Be supportive – offer to get them some juice and/or make them a quick snack … just because you “felt like one too”

  • Don’t force them to treat their low the way you think they should and/or “hover” – use your judgment, but remember that they are adults, not children, and treat them accordingly

  • Let them guide you – if they just need space to come back up, give it to them without overdoing the “just checking in”

  • Have empathy for what they are going through – remember that they didn’t do this on purpose, or to get attention, to delay doing something around the house, or because they “felt like it” … lows feel bad, no matter what.


  1. My loved one with diabetes literally clapped when I read this to her - thanks for the insight and tips! :)

  2. My husband gave me a tip a long time ago... if he's so low that he's unresponsive, he told me to give him jelly. I had to do this once, and it worked.

  3. Nightime lows are the scariest - He happily has a jelly and goes right back to sleep. I lay there and listen and worry..... Both are getting better....

  4. Hi There - I'm so happy to have come across your blogg. My husband was diagnosed with type 1 when he was 21, and has been living with it for over 20yrs. Therefore you could say I walked into our relationship knowingly. He's come a long way in accepting the disease in our 15yrs of marriage, initially he rebelled and attempted to live his life as he did before the diagnosis, including running his car off the road in his mid 20's. But one issue we seem unable to get resolved, is the frequency of his testing. His average is 2-3 a day, and his reasoning is to try and keep the cost of test strips he uses to a minimum. I'm truly at a loss as to how he can put a price tag on his well being, especially as he really tries to keep his levels to the norm, and encounters regular lows as a result. And I'm talking lows where he is going into seizures & I'm having to bring him back anyway I can. Once such incident occurred when we were on a family road-trip almost 4yrs ago. I was 7months pregnant with our 3rd child, our 2 & 5yr olds sleeping in the back - to this day I thank god for the miracle that saved us! Obviously very shaken up, he became more diligent at testing, however now we are back to 2-3 times a day, we just returned a couple of weeks ago from a trip to Europe, were he was running low every 3-4 days, the pattern still continues now that we're back. I believe it's because he has been trying and succeeding in losing some weight, and his insulin levels need adjusting. My anxiety level has reached a point were I'm suffering chest pain, but can't get through to him the importance of testing more frequently. Any suggestions/recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

  5. @ Annonymous - My wife is a CDE, Type 1 diabetic and we are also caring for a 12-yr-old type 1, both since childhood. My advice is to get your loved one onto a Continuous Glucose Pump. You can get Continuous Glucose Meters to monitor blood sugars for a period of say, 3 'normal' days, and then set basal rates for care and bolus rates for meals. Less shots and no need to check as often once 'established' on the pump, as long as you remain aware of stressor such as exercise, illness or other factors that can affect their blood sugar levels.
    I can tell you from experience, 'forcing' them to check their blood sugars only makes them more resentful. Instead, ask, "do you feel ok?" and trust their answers.

  6. Re: Weight Loss. Insulin inhibits the body's ability to burn fat, but having high blood sugars, (Over 250 or so) can result in ketoacidosis, where the body eats its own muscles, resulting in spilled ketones. So, it really is tricky but here is what we've learned - Limit your carbs, exercise as much as possible - remember, exercise tends to make you go lower and exercising above 250 is not good either (see above) so about 60 carbs a day and a half-hour walk/bike ride is a good goal. Don't expect immediate results, and plan to stick with it for the long haul. (-2 lbs a week is a healthy rate.) I recommend consulting with your physician to determine your optimal health plan.