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Everyday Challenge: Moody Blues

The effects of blood glucose levels on emotions and behavior

My loved one says they can tell when my blood sugar is high because I act out of sorts. Is that true?

Yes, there is a tendency for mood, attitude and sometimes behavior to change when blood glucose levels are out-of-range. And those who are around us the most and know us best can become highly perceptive when it comes to subtle changes in demeanor – sort of like a blood sugar “mood ring.”

Interestingly, it’s not just low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) that can trigger odd behaviors. High blood glucose (hyperglycemia) can do the same thing. Those close to people with diabetes might describe their partner as unusually “short-tempered,” “mean-spirited,” “low-energy” or “down-in-the-dumps” when blood glucose levels are elevated. And if experience has taught us anything, it has shown that, on many occasions, a fingerstick or quick glance at a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) will confirm that observation.

What’s the connection? There is speculation that there is a biochemical link between elevated glucose and mood changes. Inundating the brain with glucose changes the way neurons operate and communicate with each other. Those who have lived through their share of temporary high blood sugars know that they may lead to tiredness and dehydration and make many physical and mental tasks more challenging.

But many people also experience an emotional response to knowing that their blood glucose is not where it is supposed to be. Particularly when you work hard day-in and day-out to manage your blood sugar levels. (Read more about negative emotions and diabetes.)

Nobody likes to see blood glucose readings that are out of range, but it is important to accept that occasional highs and lows may occur for many people with diabetes. (Read more about the many factors that may contribute to high and low blood sugar levels.) Patterns of high or low glucose levels should certainly be addressed with one’s healthcare team. Reacting to high readings in an emotional fashion – by becoming angry, frustrated, accusatory or depressed – might only serve to throw fuel on the fire. The stress hormones produced by these types of emotions may drive the glucose level even higher.

The same goes for the way we treat our partners. When they say things like “You’d better check your blood sugar … you’re not acting like yourself,” try not to take it personally and don’t try to read into it. Getting defensive or upset is not going to help matters. Instead, imagine that you’re wearing a blood sugar “mood ring,” and the color has turned from rosy red to moody blue. It’s time to check your glucose and, if necessary, figure out a solution.

Partners or loved ones of people living with diabetes help out in many ways: retrieving juice for middle-of-the-night lows, scheduling and preparing meals carefully, and much more. If your partner has developed a sixth sense for knowing when your glucose is out of range, thank your lucky stars! And thank them for being by your side … for better or for worse, richer or poorer, and yes, through hypo and hyperglycemia.

Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE*, is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Masters-Level Exercise Physiologist who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more 28 years. He was named 2014 Diabetes Educator of the Year by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and has written six books, including Think Like a Pancreas. Scheiner and his clinical staff provide diabetes management consultations worldwide via phone and the Internet through his practice, Integrated Diabetes Services. Scheiner is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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