What Does Low Blood Sugar Feel Like? Hypoglycemia Described by a Diabetic

Posted April 19, 2021 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

It was 2 o’clock in the morning. My wife found me on the ground sitting up against the wall, pale and sweaty, barely able to drink the Gatorade I had in my hand. My blood sugar was 39 mg/dL, and I felt like I was clenching on to what little life and energy I had in me. This is the reality of what low blood sugar feels like sometimes.

In this article, I will detail what low blood sugar feels like and how to treat it based on my experience living with type 1 diabetes. Let me give you a quick overview answer to get us started.

What does low blood sugar feel like? Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is a life-threatening event that occurs when your blood glucose levels drop below 70 mg/dL. If left untreated, it can cause seizures and can be fatal. Symptoms often start with lightheadedness, shaky feeling, numbness of lips and tongue, nausea, and confusion.

Keep this answer in mind as I get into the details and explain my experience of having low blood sugar.

What is low blood sugar?

What Does Low Blood Sugar Feel Like

Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, occurs when your blood sugar level drops below 70 mg/dL. It is often due to having too much insulin in the bloodstream.

However, not eating for a long period and strenuous exercise can also contribute to low blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia is more likely to occur in those that have type 1 diabetes but can occur in others.

Those with diabetes are expected to have fluctuations in their glucose levels. However, a blood sugar less than 70 mg/dL requires individuals to take action to bring their blood sugar back into their target range.

It’s one thing to understand what this condition is, but what does low blood sugar feel like?

What does low blood sugar feel like?

To fully understand what hypoglycemia feels like, I will list all the symptoms and follow up with my individual experiences.

Common symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Feeling shaky
  • Anxious or nervousness
  • Sweating and clamminess
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Tingling of the lips and mouth
  • Pale skin
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling weak and fatigued
  • Having no energy
  • Coordination problems
  • Nightmares
  • Seizures

Now that you have the list of symptoms, it is important to note that each person’s hypoglycemia symptoms may differ. And patients may not experience all symptoms, but only a few.

Over the years of living with type 1 diabetes, I have had countless low blood sugar events, so I have a pretty good idea of what it feels like.

The first symptoms I often experience are a fast heartbeat and tingling lips. As my blood sugar drops more, I will often start to experience sweating, nervousness, nausea, and clamminess.

If my blood sugar becomes lower and more severe, I’ll experience some confusion and a lack of coordination.

For example, there have been a few times where I have woken up from my sleep with my heart racing, covered in sweat, and feeling shaky. At this moment, there is no doubt that I need fast-acting carbohydrates to get my blood sugar up.

On my way to the kitchen to get a cup of orange juice or another snack, I often have to use a wall to help keep my coordination.

In the more severe cases that I have experienced, I have had to sit against a wall and put my head between my knees as I try to get down a glucose gel. For me, severe low blood sugar like this feels like you have to vomit and pass out at the same time.

There are times where it is harder to feel the symptoms of low blood sugar. Most often, this occurs during my workouts. It becomes difficult to distinguish the feelings of low blood sugar and strenuous exercise.

In these cases, my blood sugar can drop well below 70 mg/dL before I really start to notice the symptoms. However, I try to prevent this by checking my blood sugar often and having a snack before I work out.

Ways to avoid and treat low blood sugar

What Does Low Blood Sugar Feel Like

Despite low blood sugar feeling like you are on the verge of passing out and causing severe confusion, it can be avoided and easily treated.

Firstly, the moment you start to feel the onset of symptoms, check your blood sugar. You need to know if it is definitely low or if you are mistaking the symptoms for something else.

If you determine that you are in a hypoglycemic state, then you need fast-acting carbohydrates immediately.

It is recommended that patients follow the 15-by-15 rule. This consists of consuming 15 grams of carbs, waiting 15 minutes before checking your blood sugar, and repeating the step if your blood sugar is still low.

The recommended fast-acting carbs are typically glucose gels or glucose tablets. From my experience, no glucose gel or tablet taste that great, but they are very effective for treating hypoglycemia.

Other sources of fast-acting carbs that I resort to when I have low blood sugar include fruit juice, apple sauce, bananas, or candy (skittles, lifesavers, etc.).

When treating low blood sugar, it is important that you do not overeat. On countless occasions, I have given in to my impulses and ate way more than what I needed, sending my blood sugar skyrocketing.

This creates a glucose roller coaster, causing you to feel irritable and exhausted. This is why following the 15-by-15 rule is so helpful, as it reduces your chances of experiencing a roller coaster of blood glucose fluctuations.

When it comes to avoiding and preventing hypoglycemia, individuals should strive for very precise insulin dosages.

Administering too much insulin is one of the major causes of low blood sugar. Other causes may include going long periods without eating and strenuous exercise.

Therefore, stay consistent with the timing of your meals and keep snacks with you throughout the day. This way, if you are out of the house for the entire day, you have a source of food to help keep your blood sugars stable.

During workouts, adjust your basal rate if you use an insulin pump. Otherwise, consider having a protein-packed snack that has about 10-15 grams of carbohydrates. This can prevent dips in blood sugar as you exert energy.

What to do for severe low blood sugar

In severe cases, low blood sugar can cause unconsciousness and seizures. This prevents the person with diabetes from being able to treat themselves.

Therefore, someone else will need to administer aid to them by injecting glucagon. There is also glucagon in the form of a nasal spray that is easier to administer.

This is why it is recommended for patients with diabetes to wear a medical ID bracelet. This lets those who don’t know you what condition you are suffering from if you are unconscious. Thus, you can be treated correctly.

If low blood sugar causes unconsciousness and it is not treated, then it can be life-threatening.

Closing thoughts

We hope this helps you understand what low blood sugar feels like. Never delay treating hypoglycemic events, as they can be dangerous.

For more questions regarding your specific condition, always consult your healthcare provider.