Health & Wellness

Mood Swings? Low Energy? Check Your Blood Sugar Level

Mood swings and low energy are common in people with diabetes, but the symptoms can be managed

By Wendy Haaf

A new feature in Good Times magazine is Your Health Questions, where we answer questions submitted by our readers about health, nutrition, and well-being. In the April issue:

Is it normal for a person with diabetes who takes insulin to have mood swings and low energy?

“Mood swings and low energy are very common in people with diabetes, whether they’re on insulin or not,” says Shelley Jones, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator in Salisbury, NB, and co-chair of Diabetes Canada’s professional section. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to feeling that way for good: the symptoms can usually be improved and perhaps even eliminated.

For one thing, worry and the day-to-day challenges of managing a complex chronic disease can be emotionally draining and cause changes in mood, particularly when you’re starting a new regimen; getting support and advice from a certified diabetes educator can ease this distress.

“This kind of help is very beneficial,” stresses Dr. Agron Alija, a London, ON, family physician who works with clinical educators from St. Joseph’s Health Care London. (If your physician can’t connect you with a diabetes educator, Jones suggests that you speak with your pharmacist.)

Another prime suspect is fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

“Swings in blood sugar can affect your mood,” Jones explains. If your sugar level is too high, that means the sugar is still in your bloodstream—it’s not getting moved into the cells where the work gets done. That can make you tired and affect your thinking, because your brain isn’t getting the fuel it needs to do its job,” she says. “If your sugar level is dropping too low, same thing. Without enough sugar available, the cells are starved, so they’re not functioning quite the way they should and you feel tired.” Alija adds, “If I see someone in the ER with very low blood sugar, they’re anxious and jittery—as soon as you correct that, they feel better.”

A little detective work can help determine whether yo-yoing blood sugar levels are the culprit and point to possible ways of smoothing them out. “If one of my patients was having this issue, I’d first suggest doing a bit more self-monitoring of blood glucose to try to figure out what’s going on,” Jones says. Keeping a journal of your blood glucose levels and a log of what you’re eating may help you spot patterns—for example, it may be that a particular food is causing your sugars to spike. “I’d also suggest talking with your diabetes educator about your blood glucose numbers and about what your insulin doses are doing or not doing,” Jones says.

While it may take some experimentation, with guidance from your diabetes educator, you should be able to adjust your medication, diet, and exercise routines to keep your sugar level on a more even keel. “Once it’s stable,” Alija says, “people will notice their mood improves, their relationships improve…everything improves.”

For more information on diabetes, visit: diabetes.ca.

Photo: iStock/seamartini.