Say no to hypos – who should?
If you don’t have, or know, anyone with diabetes, you may be asking ‘what are hypos’? If you do, you’re almost certainly up to speed with what they mean. A ‘hypo’ is the common term for low blood sugar, and symptoms include feeling faint, dizzy, hungry, trembly, anxious or having blurred vision. If it’s not treated and gets worse, it can even cause loss of consciousness and it can occasionally be fatal. The consequences can be severe, especially if you’re driving or operating machinery at the time. Having hypos can reduce your quality of life and your confidence, and that’s why this week is the first ever Hypoglycaemia Awareness Week, launched by the NHS.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are in many ways completely different conditions – type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system, which usually fights off disease, turns on itself. It’s thought to be triggered by something that happens to you during your life, such as a virus infection. A few virus infections we can protect against – children whose mothers contracted German measles when they were in the womb are at hugely increased risk of getting type 1 diabetes, and getting mumps in childhood may increase the risk – but other than getting your immunisations, or moving when you’re a baby to a different part of the world where type 1 diabetes is less common, you can’t stop yourself getting type 1 diabetes. Type 2 is a completely different matter – studies suggest that keeping your weight down, improving your diet and taking more exercise can more than halve your risk of getting this condition. But both people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk of getting hypos, or low blood sugar, from their treatment. Treatment with insulin can cause hypos, but so can taking tablets for type 2 diabetes, such as sulphonylureas. If you have type 1 diabetes, you always need to be treated with insulin. If you have type 2, you’ll often need treatment with tablets and sometimes with insulin. That’s because letting the blood sugar rise too much can cause serious complications as well, such as damage to your eyes, your kidneys or your feet and nervous systemAlthough hypos can’t always be prevented, many of them can either be avoided or treated early to stop your blood sugar dropping even more. They’re much more common if you delay or miss meals or snacks; don’t eat the right amount of carbohydrate; drink excess alcohol (especially without food); or exercise very strenuously without taking enough food keep your blood sugar at the right level. This year Ramadan falls from 20th July-18th August, and a fast from before sunrise to after sunset in the summer, when days are long, brings especially high risks of hypos.
Being aware of the dangers and early symptoms of hypos, as well as getting your treatment right and knowing how to reduce your risks, can hugely cut the risk of hypos. That means working together with your diabetes medical team to look at your risks. All too often, people with diabetes worry that speaking to their healthcare professional will jeopardise their driving licence because of DVLA restrictions.
A new campaign aims to raise awareness of hypos and how people can reduce their risk. It’s aimed at people with diabetes, their family and friends, as well as their healthcare professionals. Checking it out could be the first step to a new, confident, hypo-free you.