Is this a panic attack or do I have low blood sugar?

Here the Health at Hand nurses take us through the differences between a panic attack and low sugar level.

Panic Attacks

These tend to come on suddenly and leave us extremely scared and anxious. The body’s breathing rate increases, muscles become tense and there is an acceleration of the heart rate – essentially your body goes into flight or fight mode during a panic attack.

Sometimes we can see no reason for a panic attack but equally they can be triggered by a stressful emotional event.

Panic attack – symptoms

The most commonly reported symptoms that are experienced during a panic attack include:

  • Hyperventilating (breathing too much too fast)
  • A quickening of the heart rate, including possible palpitations
  • Sweating and shaking or trembling
  • Not feeling able to catch your breath
  • A choking feeling
  • Gagging or dry heaving
  • Discomfort in the chest area
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • A feeling that this is not real
  • A fear of losing control
  • A fear that you are about to die
  • Numbness or tingling in the body
  • Hot flushes or chills

Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)

If you are reported to be hypoglycaemic then the glucose level in your blood is too low. Hypoglycaemia generally goes hand in hand with being diabetic but low blood sugar can also be as a result of skipping a meal, vigorous exercise or even binge drinking.

Low blood sugar symptoms

There are a number of symptoms reported by people who experience low blood sugar but many of these can improve dramatically only a few minutes after eating sugar.

Low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • Sweating and shaking or trembling
  • Skin looking pale
  • Feeling weak
  • Heartbeat rapid
  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling agitated and irritable
  • Having difficulties concentrating
  • Feeling tired
  • Having blurred vision

While panic attacks and low blood sugar are very different, some of the symptoms are similar so it is important that you speak with your GP if you are unsure what is happening. Your GP will be able to help work out the best course of action you should be taking to help you manage your symptoms.

There is more information on how to manage sugar levels on our sugar crash infographic or you can read about treatment, causes and prevention of low blood sugar by NHS Choices.

If you are concerned about diabetes then find out how to recognise, diagnose and manage diabetes here and for more on anxiety then click here for how to manage anxiety and panic attacks.

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