Whenever I research a topic, I look for dependable information and testimonials or reviews from people who have the experience to share. I find I gain a clearer picture or a better-rounded overview of what I want to learn.
The “My Journey” area of this website is devoted to my testimonial or personal account of having reactive hypoglycemia. In this section, it is my intention to cover as many topics as I can relating to my experience with this particular hypoglycemia. Through sharing my personal experience, it is my hope and desire that readers will find answers and be encouraged as they search for relatable information.
Reactive or postprandial hypoglycemia happens when a person regularly experiences symptoms of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia 2 to 4 hours after eating.
MY LIFE BEFORE DIAGNOSIS
I remember experiencing symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia when I was in high school. I was often tired or lethargic, (eating well and exercising were not high priorities). My family members were similar in that, they also had low energy, so my being tired seemed normal.
The lack of focus on good health and the fact that I didn’t pay attention to how I felt after eating meals, made it difficult to identify or notice an underlying condition. (Since nutrition and protein fuel our bodies with energy, eating foods of little nutritional value will often leave our bodies feeling tired, no matter how much we eat. Also, lack of physical movement throughout the day or not drinking enough water and staying hydrated will cause fatigue.)
When I started to crash, my hands shook, I became dizzy, weak, irritable, had coldness in my hands and feet, and craved sweets. I didn’t realize these were symptoms of anything, so I continued on with life and pushed through the rest of high school.
I started paying attention to my body, recognizing that I’d feel terrible if I waited too long to eat. I began to suspect something might be wrong, so at age 18, I went to a small clinic, deciding to test my blood for hypoglycemia. I was instructed not to eat breakfast before my appointment. Once at the clinic, I drank a sugary liquid before they took my blood. This was the glucose tolerance test, but instead of taking my blood several times, they took it only once.
A nurse called with the results of my blood test, explaining it read as though I had diabetes. (Type 2 diabetes runs in my family.) At the time, my understanding of diabetes was limited, so I thought in order to have type 2 diabetes, I would have to be a person with excess weight.
Being thin with a fast metabolism, I thought it unlikely I’d ever get type 2 diabetes, so naturally, I didn’t expect this kind of news. Right away, I thought of type 1 diabetes, which requires daily shots of insulin, and this left me feeling devastated. I hung up the phone and cried, not understanding how the status of my health went from a suspicion of hypoglycemia to the idea of having to give myself shots of insulin every day.
Several minutes later, I received another phone call. It was the nurse calling to explain they had made an error in reading the results. She apologized and said I did not, in fact, have diabetes. The readings of my blood sugar levels were unclear. She said the numbers were close to the low range for hypoglycemia but not enough, in their opinion, to diagnose me, so they gave me a clean bill of health. This jarring experience did not restore my confidence. It made me think something had to be wrong if the test results were unclear enough to create such confusion.
(As a side note: people with diabetes struggle with high (hyper) and low (hypo) blood sugar, and have to be very aware of their glucose levels, but you can have hypoglycemia and not be diabetic.)
Not long after, I went to a larger clinic for an unrelated topic. While there, I brought up my concerns again and found the doctor didn’t seem too worried about the possibility of it being something serious. He said most people experience symptoms of hypoglycemia at some point or another and I was likely fine. I wanted to casually brush it off as simply as he did because who wants to be anything but healthy?
SEVERAL YEARS PASSED
I pushed the topic to the back of my mind, choosing denial over the discouragement of entertaining the thought that I might have some kind of physical ailment. So, I continued on with life. I married, moved away from family, and went to college.
I began to compare myself to my husband, thinking of how my low energy measured up to his high energy. As a couple, we were not health focused yet, but we were eating the same foods, which made me think our energy levels should’ve been more similar than they were. He woke up early, went to work and came home with energy to spare. I woke up not so early, did the college thing, and ended my day exhausted.
I understood, being two different people, our bodies were not the same, but the energy differences seemed significant. I often thought to myself Why am I so tired all the time? This question played over and over in my thoughts—slowly fueling my growing frustration.
It had now been about 5 or 6 years since my last unsuccessful test, and I was ready to try again. In 2009, I went to my appointment on an empty stomach to do another glucose tolerance test, as the doctor instructed. This time, after drinking the sugary liquid, my blood was taken several times over 2 or 3 hours.
The nurse was thorough, but coming in on an empty stomach and not eating during the additional hours of testing triggered my uncomfortable symptoms. Hypoglycemia and fasting can be tricky. I remember leaving feeling like a zombie with symptoms such as; a pale complexion, an unfocused and foggy mind, feeling weak, shaky, cold, dizzy, and more.
The results ended up the same—inconclusive. The nurse seemed confused because my numbers were low, but not so much she felt confident to say I had hypoglycemia, which happens when blood sugar levels fall below 70. Again, it was a frustrating experience. (At the time, I was unaware that there were different types of hypoglycemia. I later learned that reactive/postprandial hypoglycemia can be hard to diagnose.)
I lost faith in doctors and their ability to clarify my suspicions. Not having an official diagnosis made these health issues less real and made it easier to let myself go back into a state of denial. So as a result, my quality of life suffered.
With time, I became more active, my symptoms worsened and were more severe and impactful in my day-to-day life. My husband and I were educating ourselves on eating well and how types of foods affect the body. I tried to exercise with consistency, pursue hobbies, and work—normal stuff.
I knew consuming whole and fresh foods should overall make a person feel good, so I sought after healthy food alternatives to gain more energy. It helped, but it didn’t stop my daily symptoms related to hypoglycemia or the exhaustion I felt.
Exercise should also improve one’s quality of life. Running is an activity I enjoyed but after doing it, I always ended up out of commission for the rest of the day. It wiped me out, and I wasn’t running marathons either, only about 2-3 miles per run.
After making good improvements on my health, the same question remained in my thoughts—Why am I always tired? The exhaustion became greater, not less, and made little sense. There was still a ways to go in our education of health, but I had hoped for encouraging results in the way of energy reserves.
I wanted to accomplish more in life, so my daily goals increased along with my level of frustration. I thought, with proper motivation and determination, each full day could be productive, but that wasn’t the case. I pushed myself hard but my body always sabotaged my plans.
In reality, the real saboteur was the ignorance of my condition and how to properly manage it.
I often wondered—if I don’t have hypoglycemia, then what else could it be? It was clear I had something, and it seemed so similar. Since past doctors were not helpful, and I knew my symptoms well, I thought, maybe I can figure this out myself.
After researching online and reading articles on hypoglycemia, I could see that my symptoms didn’t line up exactly because they’d show every 2 ½ to 3 hours—like clockwork. In general, I mostly found information having to do with fasting hypoglycemia, which means symptoms happen due to not eating for an extended period of time (around 6 hours) as this causes sugar levels to fall too low.
I then read about reactive hypoglycemia and found out, for this type, symptoms show 2-4 hours after eating. With a little more research, it seemed to me that this condition fit me like a glove. Now all I needed was a doctor who would take the time to consider this possibility and not casually write me off.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
In 2015, I went to a new appointment—educated and ready to challenge the physician if need be. I rattled off my extensive list of symptoms and told him how I’d tested several times before with the glucose tolerance test, but had no other tests done. I expressed that I felt pretty confident about what I thought my condition was, based on my reoccurring symptoms. I asked if there was a better test for reactive hypoglycemia because my glucose tolerance test results always came back inconclusive, and the doctors never suggested other testing options.
During the visit, he listened and gave me his full attention. He was thorough and diligent to get to the bottom of it—immediately naming other testing methods we could try. He came across as though he cared and understood that something had to be wrong.
I went in for a fasting glucose blood test, so I didn’t eat breakfast before my blood was drawn. This test differs from the glucose tolerance test, in that, you do not drink a sugary drink before the test and your blood is drawn once, not multiple times over several hours. He gave me an at home test to use myself, instructing me to check my blood at different times. I was also set up to meet with a dietitian. My doctor was honest in saying that a dietitian would know more about the specifics of hypoglycemia than he would.
After talking with him, I felt like a weight had lifted from my shoulders. My doctor wanted to test me for multiple things, use more than one test method, and have me see a specialist. I thought, finally, we’re going to figure this out!
THE TEST RESULTS
When my blood was drawn, they checked my thyroid, and various hormone levels to rule out other possibilities as to why I had these symptoms. My fasting glucose blood test showed that the additional things tested looked normal, and my glucose level was in the low 70’s but not below. This stumped me because I remember crashing and having an onslaught of symptoms while the nurse drew my blood, and I wondered why my numbers hadn’t read lower. (Fasting and reactive hypoglycemia do not mix. If done, it is almost certain you’ll experience uncomfortable symptoms).
My glucose test at home (pricking my finger and testing my blood with a glucose meter), was even more confusing. When I sensed a crash coming, my blood read in the mid 70’s, and in the midst of a crash, it read in the low 80’s. My doctor didn’t seem deterred, he said it wasn’t necessarily a problem or a hindrance in my being diagnosed.
In talking with the dietitian, she was both educating and encouraging, which set me on the path to continued learning about this condition on my own.
She laughed off my concerns about my blood sugar levels not being low enough. She explained that not everyone is the same. People can have symptoms and be diagnosed with this condition and not have the exact textbook definition because everyone’s body functions differently.
The results were close and had I been a little more thorough in my self-testing at a few more varied times during the day, I likely would have seen numbers below 70. In the end, my reoccurring symptoms lined up with postprandial hypoglycemia.
I later learned that waiting to check blood glucose levels until after symptoms have started, can cause levels to go up, not down. (Although, for some people, glucose levels do continue to drop). The body tries to adjust to the high amount of insulin it’s now producing by increasing sugar levels, thus showing an increased glucose reading. Also, if your blood sugar is below 75 mg/dl, glucose meters can show results of up to +/- 15% and still be considered accurate. For more on glucose meters, check out this post! Blood Glucose Monitoring—Easily Test Your Blood Sugar From Home
In any event, the more reliable way of testing for reactive hypoglycemia is by using the glucose test at home. Waiting about 3 hours after eating or before you feel symptoms is a better time to check. This should produce more accurate test results instead of waiting until after you’re overcome by symptoms. With that said, to gain more clarity on what is going on with your sugar levels, check multiple times a day using a glucose meter—before eating, after eating, during symptoms, morning, afternoon, evening, after exercise, etc.
MANAGING REACTIVE HYPOGLYCEMIA WITH FOOD
The dietitian gave instructions on how to treat reactive hypoglycemia, which was a huge help. Up to that point, I ate when I felt hungry, which was a problem since I usually felt hungry after I crashed. Sometimes it would be awhile of experiencing symptoms before my hunger meter kicked in, depending on what I was doing or how active I had been. (So waiting to feel hungry was an unreliable indicator of my dropping glucose levels).
She instructed that I eat a snack or meal every 2 ½ to 3 hours before symptoms started. She emphasized the importance of consuming healthy foods or drinks. Eating whole foods, complex carbs, veggies, fruit, and protein. The things that naturally give our bodies the most energy and nutrition.
At first, eating this frequently was difficult for me, even more so due to the demanding nature of this condition. The necessity to stay diligent and committed to eating something often was tiring and if ever I slipped up, I’d have to deal with the negative symptoms that were guaranteed to follow. Over time, I adapted to this diet by figuring out snacks and foods that worked best for my lifestyle.
She gave examples of how much to eat in one sitting like, for a piece of fruit, if you can conceal it using both hands, (like an apple, orange, or banana, handful of berries, etc.), then that’s a good amount. Her recommendation was to eat about 30–45 grams of healthy carbs plus some protein. This was helpful information, but I ended up gaining weight because it was too much for my body type. Instead, I focused on eating a variety of healthy foods, using the serving sizes available on the package as a guide, but only eating until I felt full.
Following serving size amounts is a good thing because having this condition requires that a source of food be consumed about 6 times a day. Not following serving sizes or paying attention to our body when it indicates it’s full, (eating more than the recommended amount or what is necessary for your particular body), can cause weight gain.
Eating less than what our body requires will cause us to tire out faster because the body is pulling energy from a smaller reserve of glucose. (Glucose is the natural sugar created by our body, which it takes from the healthy carbs we eat. Glucose is the main energy source our bodies use, especially our brains.) Less fuel means a shorter time frame of available energy. It’ll then be necessary to eat more frequently to keep blood glucose levels balanced.
Before I adjusted my eating habits, I didn’t eat often enough and what I ate did not supply my body with proper nutrition or balance out my blood sugar levels. As a result, this meant that every day I felt exhausted and experienced symptoms. Even if I ate something healthy, the fact that I didn’t eat often enough meant that after my body used up that healthy food, I would crash. So healthy foods will keep the body better balanced but it’s important to eat often enough.
(Now that I know and understand my body, I eat about every 2 ½ to 3 hours. Sometimes a heavier meal will last me a bit longer, but when I maintain this habit I am energized the whole day!)
She also said I should eat or drink something before exercising, to make sure my body had enough energy to burn during the workout, and she stressed the importance of consuming a source of protein immediately after.
Previously, the way I handled exercise was a huge problem for someone with postprandial hypoglycemia. I didn’t fuel up before exercising or after, once I finished, which put me out of commission for the rest of the day. (If only I had known about this condition—how to treat it, and of what my lifestyle should look like, so much frustration would have been avoided.)
After my experience with the doctor and dietitian, my opinion of physicians and specialists improved. They were very helpful and thorough, but not every doctor is the same. It’s a relief to have a medical practitioner who considers many options and listens to their patients, but no matter the physician, we have to look into matters for ourselves. An educated patient can ask good questions, prompt better care, encourage more tests, provide additional pieces of the puzzle in order to get to the bottom of their condition, and hopefully discern whether more opinions are needed.
I have worked on adjusting my lifestyle to manage this condition, pursued more education, and have come to terms with the frustration of living with reactive hypoglycemia. There are days where it’s just plain frustrating to HAVE to eat something or suffer the consequences. For a time, it made me dislike eating even more, but I’ve learned what to eat and what not to, and have accepted the reality of my condition. My happiness has greatly increased because I now know for sure what I have and what to do about it!
If you have any thoughts, questions, concerns, or want to share a piece of your personal experience with hypoglycemia, please post a comment down below!
Published Jan 31, 2017. Updated May 25, 2017.