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Difference between panic attack and low blood sugar

What is the difference between a panic attack and a low sugar level?

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The answer

A panic attack is very sudden in onset and includes a very intense fear and anxiety. There is often no warning and no apparent reason for it, but they are often triggered by a stressful event such as bereavement.

During a panic attack your body to goes into fight or flight mode ¬– your breathing rate increases, muscles tense and heart rate quickens.

Low blood sugar – or hypoglycaemia – is when the glucose level in your blood is too low. It is often associated with being diabetic, but can also be caused by other factors such as binge drinking.

While the two are very different, some of the symptoms – such as trembling, sweating and a high heart rate – are similar.

Here is a full list of symptoms for both so you can differentiate.

Symptoms of low blood sugar

A low blood sugar level can cause a number of symptoms that get better a few minutes after eating sugar. They include:

  • Paleness
  • Trembling
  • Perspiration
  • A feeling of weakness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hunger
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision.

Symptoms of panic attack

These are the common symptoms that people can feel during a panic attack:

  • Over-breathing (hyperventilating)
  • Palpitations and/or accelerated heart rate
  • Dry heaving and/or gagging
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or being smothered
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
  • De-realisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or going insane
  • Sense of impending death
  • Paraesthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Chills or hot flushes.

If you are still unsure what has been happening to you, talk to your doctor who will be able to help work out which applies to you.

Answered by the Health at Hand nurses  

Further Reading

Visit our mental health centre for more information about panic attacks

Learning to live with anxiety – Anna’s story

Managing and treating anxiety and panic attacks – AXA PPP healthcare

To learn more about managing sugar levels, visit our diabetes centre

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