11 September 2011

Happy Happy Hypo

After lunch one Friday in May 2009, I was jaywalking across a street and had a weird episode. My vision and hearing both started to go out, I had trouble walking and I could not speak. I thought I was going to pass out -- right there in the middle of traffic!

I went to my doctor. Was it a mini-stroke? He said no. Over the next couple years, trying to find an explanation, I visited doctor after doctor. In order: a general practice doctor, a pulmonologist, two different general practice doctors, two cardiologists, a gastroenterologist and two endocrinologists. I wrote about one of those doctor visits here.

Just this past June, with the help of an endocrinologist, we finally found (what we think is) the answer: like my father, I am hypoglycemic.

Basically, hypoglycemia is when your body does not have enough fuel (glucose) to function. If you have no fuel you can faint and even die; if, like in my case, you are running low on fuel, you have near faints and other symptoms which are annoying but not really dangerous. There are two kinds of hypoglycemia: one is when you have low blood sugar (glucose) all the time; the other when you only have low blood sugar after you eat.

How can you have too little fuel AFTER eating? In the kind of hypoglycemia known as reactive hypoglycemia -- which only occurs in reaction to eating.

When you eat, your body releases insulin to help process the food (glucose). When I eat, my body produces prodigious amounts of insulin -- three times more than it should -- that processes the food and then keeps on processing whatever glucose it can find floating in my body. This upsets the balance of my blood sugar and I have these weird symptoms. It is not something that can be cured; and can easily progress to something much worse -- not least of which is full-blown diabetes and all its associated problems.

Reactive hypoglycemia can be controlled by proper eating (reduce carbohydrates -- especially processed sugar), controlling weight, and being physically active. I have cut out ALL processed sugar from my diet (there was not much to cut, but it's gone now), I have been maintaining a good weight since 2002 and I am physically active but I'm increasing that.

Reactive hypoglycemia becomes relatively common as we age. In some cases it occurs in people who eat tons of sugar, in others it is genetic. It is probably genetic in my case because I never ate much sugar and my dad had regular hypoglycemia. If you ever have similar symptons, I would suggest a visit to your regular doctor followed by a trip to an endocrinologist to measure your glucose and insulin levels. You might as well start where I ended up and save yourself all that money, time and frustration.

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