Hypoglycemia Association, Inc.

Bulletin #147

November/December 1985

Through the Mill with Hypoglycemia



This bulletin is not meant to be medical advice. It is written by lay people, dedicated to helping those with hypoglycemia. All cases are individual. If you need medical advice, see your physician.

I am a fairly ordinary guy, with no huge problems or over peculiarities. Far from being a hypochondriac, I had seldom been sick or needed to see a doctor or visit a hospital. But sometime during 1970 I began having strange "attacks" with occasional seizures and blackouts. These almost invariably occurred at certain times of the day and night -- usually mid- morning, late afternoon or around 2 or 3 a.m., when I would often awaken with a pounding heart and extreme anxiety. Unconsciously I began planning my days around these "danger zones," as I began calling these periods. The emergency room doctors and my own family physicians always dismissed these as nervous attacks of some kind or other, although there was never any unusual kind of emotional stress preceding these episodes.

During the next three years these attacks became more and more frequent and severe -- I learned to go to my office and shut the door after teaching my 9 o'clock class. I would lie down on the floor and just wait for whatever was going to happen that day. At home I was retreating to the basement office to escape the crying of my son. I had no time for or interest in the ordinary stuff of changing diapers, pleasant conversation, simple good humor. In short, I was being destroyed not only physically and psychologically, but socially and domestically as well.

At Christmas in 1973 my condition became incapacitating, with seizures almost every day and a distressing assortment of anxieties and physical problems. I began to find that the "danger zones" were growing wider. I found that sometimes I was having attacks quite soon after breakfast -- sometimes during breakfast -- and that my periods of shaking, dizziness, and anxiety were often lasting several hours. Conversely, the times of the day that I could now count on being relatively symptom-free were becoming fewer, and shorter. I could count on feeling halfway good only during one "safety zone" every day, and that was after eating a large dinner, followed by at least three glasses of Nestle's Quick. Then, for two or three hours I could try to relax and do some work, or talk with my wife and son, or read the newspaper.

I had heard the word "hypoglycemia," but knew nothing of blood sugar except that it had something to do with diabetes. But I began to wonder if all the sweets during Christmas could have anything to do with my condition. So I went to a nearby University hospital and discussed my problem with the Clinic doctors and asked them to give me a Glucose Tolerance Test. They obliged.

I went into the lab at 8:00 a.m., had blood drawn and drank a Glucola. I felt secure with doctors all around, so I went to the waiting room and read a National Geographic article. At the end of the first hour, I left my magazine to go have another blood sample drawn. As I was sitting in the chair chatting with the technician, something that felt very much like a sledgehammer hit me in the head. I flew into a convulsion, cried uncontrollably, and the last thing I remember is the technician screaming for help.

When I awoke 25 minutes later, two men in white coats were leaving the room, my shoes and glasses were off, and a bar of some kind had been clamped across the front of the chair where I was sitting. My sister, who works in the hospital, was summoned, and she helped me walk back to the waiting room and stayed with me as I went through a series of "aftershocks" of shaking and dizziness which occurred roughly every five minutes for another hour or so. Then for another two hours I was generally very weak and dizzy, just able to walk to the water fountain up the hall by leaning against the wall. At the end of the five hours I was exhausted, but at least able to walk.

I had lunch, then went in to see my doctor, a professor of internal medicine. He said, "Your GTT was normal. I think you're hyperventilating," and sent me home with a paper bag to breathe into when I felt ill. I was a bit skeptical about this, but agreed to try it. But I did instinctively stay away from sugar when I reached home.

A short time later I was struck down by severe vertigo (dizziness) and disorientation. I couldn't walk straight or talk without slurring my words. A friend rushed me to the hospital, where I collapsed on the floor of the emergency room, unable even to sit up by this time. The doctors then proceeded to test me for brain conditions, including tumor, MS, encephalitis, etc., for ten days. My behavior in the hospital was bizarre, including crawling across the floor to get to the bathroom, bawling out and threatening the nurses, and hanging onto the rails of the bed for dear life when the room began whirling. They sent me across town to see an ear specialist -- a trip I will never forget.

Finding nothing wrong, they sent me to the psychiatrists, who talked of institutionalizing me. They decided to wait just a few days to see what would happen. My eyes had crossed by this time and I wore a patch on one eye. I could no longer remember where I was going or why some of the time. My psychiatrist, a silent analyst, noted the patch on my eye and said, simply, "you've added something." No further medical consultation was suggested or recommended.

I then made out a will and made plans to commit suicide by crashing my VW bus into a bridge abutment. My life was truly unbearable. But I also decided to pursue the only clue I had so far detected, the violent reaction I had had to the sugar. So on my next trip back to the hospital, instead of going to the psychiatrist I went to the medical library, where with a patch over one eye and holding onto the library tables I managed to get back to the Index Medicus, where I located the early works of Dr. Seale Harris. I stumbled into the stacks and sat on the floor beside those old articles and read of a number of other people who had had problems like mine, and whom Dr. Harris had very humanely and successfully treated. I decided to try his diet.

I began to improve. I noticed after a week that I could focus my eyes for the first few minutes after awakening, and these periods grew longer. I began to be able to walk straight part of the time, and my mind seemed to be clearing up. And I continued reading in the library. I obtained my GTT results, and saw a drastic drop from 173 to 71 mg/100ml occurring as I had experienced my symptoms. I learned that Dr. Harris had originally named the condition "Hyperinsulinism and Dysinsulinism" and that these were more correct terms than the "hypoglycemia" he adopted later. I also learned from the R. H. Williams "Textbook of Endocrinology" that the most dramatic symptoms of hypoglycemia do not coincide with a low glucose nadir (the lowest point on the GTT) at all, but with a rapid fall in blood glucose. My GTT had involved glucose measurements only. "Real specialists" in hypoglycemia were no longer relying on glucose measurements alone, but were considering, insulin, Cortisol, and growth hormone concentrations in diagnosis (Hofeldt, Dippe, and Forsham, 1972) In addition, I found out that vertigo and disorientation were standard features of severe hypoglycemia.

The Chairman of the National Commission on Diabetes, for one, had just the year before written off hypoglycemia as a "nuisance rather than a serious disease" (Crofford and Graber, 1973). As I continued to improve, I began trying to set these people straight on the current research. I spoke at the IPA convention in Washington about my experiences, and have tried my best in other ways to gain recognition for this devastating syndrome.

Little has changed in the medical community regarding hypoglycemia during the past ten years. The doctors are still ignoring the syndrome, or are arguing about glucose nadirs, or blaming the syndrome on emotional problems. And they are ignoring the most obvious cause of "idiopathic" hypoglycemia: overconsumption of sugar. Just as the GTT can induce hypoglycemia, any massive amount of sugar -- not uncommon in out diets - - can induce the condition. (For some even a tiny amount can be devastating -- HAI)

And real hypoglycemic are still going into mental institutions or are being driven to suicide by this eminently treatable disorder. I am one of the lucky ones; I have been quite well for the past nine years.

Reproduced by Permission of HAI
Questions should be directed to HAI