Many people with diabetes have a debilitating fear of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is the medical term for low blood glucose or low blood sugar levels. Symptoms can include weakness, dizziness, feeling hungry, or irritability. In some cases, there can be no symptoms at all. If left untreated, a low blood sugar can lead to a coma or death
Why parents of children with diabetes fear hypoglycemia
As a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes, I would often wake in the middle of the night to check my son’s blood sugar levels. Sometimes I would only wake once, other times I would wake more often. In my mind, if I woke up during the night there was a reason. My son might be in danger.
When my son was younger and still living at home, continuous glucose monitors were not readily available or as widely used as they are now. I had no way of knowing if he was high or low unless I got up and took a reading.
If I woke up and didn’t check his blood sugar I would begin to panic when I woke up again. I would lay in my bed heavily burdened by the guilt of daring to sleep. The “what if’s” would begin….
- What if he did drop lower while I selfishly slept?
- What if he went so low in his sleep that he seized while I dreamed of peaceful walks?
- What if he couldn’t wake up when I finally did go to check on him?
- What if he went so low that he had brain damage?
- What if my sweet, quirky young son was hurt because of my selfish desire to rest a little longer? I would never forgive myself!
These are just some of the things that parents of children with diabetes think of when they should be resting or waking refreshed. Studies have shown that nearly one-third of pediatric parenting stress appears to be associated with their fears related to hypoglycemia.
Why people with type 1 diabetes fear hypoglycemia
As parents, we are terrified that we will fail our children and not wake up to help them. People with diabetes often fear being alone when a hypo strikes and not being able to help themselves. They may run their blood sugar levels higher than they should just to avoid a dreaded low.
Fearing hypoglycemia is completely normal.
Whether you are a parent or a person with diabetes, fearing hypoglycemia is completely normal and understandable. We know that diabetes is deadly and that dead in bed happens. The problem is when fear becomes overwhelming.
What to do when fear takes over your life
For parents, crippling fear can result in things like co-sleeping with the child to the determent of a marital relationship or staying awake at all hours and impairing their own health. For people with diabetes, it can mean running their blood sugar levels too high and potentially causing complications.
There are a number of things that you can do when your fear of hypoglycemia begins to take over your life.
- Remember that fear of hypoglycaemia is a normal response to a threat, and a certain amount of fear is okay. It will help to keep you alert for hypoglycaemic symptoms. Extreme or overwhelming fear, however, is a problem because it can compromise your diabetes management. As I said above, it can also impair your quality of life, and even the lives of your family members.
- Systematically try to think about the underlying cause of the low that is causing you anxiety. Look at what is causing the low blood sugar, and how can it be avoided in the future? Consider increasing the amount of time that you are checking your blood glucose levels or invest in a glucose sensor. Log the readings in a logbook or use the software available through the glucometer or sensor company to look for patterns. Work with your healthcare team to further help you understand the cause of your lows. Once the reason is understood, changes can be made to the diabetes management routine to help prevent lows.
- Consult with someone on your diabetes team for help if you find that you are running your blood glucose levels high to avoid a low while you are doing something important like a work presentation or a first date. They can offer you strategies that will help to prepare you for how you would manage if you were to have a hypo in this sort of situation. Being prepared can be a great tool that helps relieve anxiety.
If your fear of hypoglycemia or worry about going low becomes crippling, preoccupies your thoughts, fills you with anxiety or you begin to organize your life (or the life of your child) to avoid them happening, it is important to talk to someone. Your diabetes team may be able to recommend a cognitive behavioural therapist or other mental health professional. You may require new strategies to help you to reduce your anxiety to help you cope.
If you live in Ontario, Maple offers online counseling services for a fee that you can also take advantage of.
To help you systematically trace why a low may have happened, download the free PDF Hypoglycemia checklist.
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