Can Hypoglycemia cause short term memory loss?
I have had diabetes since the spring of 1966. I don’t have any eye, kidney, heart, nerve problems…thank God…but I have ba short term memory. I went to a neuro Doc and had many test done, I have some dead cells in the brain and damaged ones also that effect my short term memory. The Dr. said all he can figure out is that over the past 35 to 40 years my low blood sugars caused the damage. Have you ever heard of low blood sugar (insulin reactions) over a long term exposure causing this? ?? He suggested taking drugs that are used for treating Alzheimer’s . My long term memory and daily functions are not effected. For some reason I can’t add subtract or divide in my head now. I have to use a calculator?? Have you heard of other long term Diabetics with problems like mine? What treatments do you or have you heard of dealing with this?? Thanks
Last edited by John Walsh, PA, CDE; 01-05-2011 at 06:07 PM.
Like asking what caused your Type 1 diabetes, asking what caused your memory loss will probably never be decisively answered.
Given that disclaimer, low blood sugars can definitely affect memory and other brain functions. A study by Dr. Andrew Sommerfield and others in Scotland in the Feb, 2003 issue of Diabetes Care looked carefully at mental function tests in people with Type 1 when their glucose was at 81 mg/dl (4.5 mmol) and again at 47 mg/dl (2.5mmol). Marked differences in memory function are noted, and the authors provide a nice discussion of this. However, the mental changes noted in this study are short-term and disappear soon after the glucose level returns to normal, as they are with most hypoglycemia.
It takes extremely low and very long-lasting hypoglycemia to cause brain changes. High glucose levels can also impact mental function. Hospitalization for ketoacidosis has been found to cause a small lowering of IQ levels in school-age children.
The largest study regarding hypoglycemia and cognitive function was the DCCT and its follow-up EDIC, two studies that followed 1144 people with Type 1 over an average of 18 years. Forty per cent of this group reported at least one hypoglycemic coma or seizure. However, no evidence of substantial long-term declines in cognitive function was found in this large group of patients with type 1 diabetes, despite relatively high rates of recurrent severe hypoglycemia. N Engl J Med 2007; 356:1842-52
More information regarding your hypoglycemia history would be helpful. How severe and frequent have your lows been? Since the start of your diabetes in 1966, consider how often you have been to the emergency room for lows, how may times you were unconscious or had seizures when low, and how many times you needed someone else’s help to come out of a low?
You say you had tests done. If a MRI or angiogram of the brain detected “dead cells in the brain”, this damage might have been caused by either very severe hypoglycemia or a small stroke. Each has a specific signature or specific tests, as does Alzheimer’s.
If your math skills suddenly dropped off after a low blood sugar event, I would blame the loss on that low. However, as I have noticed in my own brain, my mental math skills are not nearly what they were years ago, not because of changes in my brain (I assume), but because I don’t use math nearly as often as I once did. You may want to try exercising the math areas of your brain by doing everyday tasks in your head, such as calculating your change when you buy something before you look at the cash register. You might try simple sudoku puzzles. See if your decrease in math skills are or are not related to hypoglycemia.
Besides trying the Alzheimer’s drug your neurologist recommended, there are several things you can consider doing to protect your brain and possibly improve brain function.
- Avoid lows
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol at safe levels
- Take an anti-inflammatory
- Take an antioxidant complex and fish oil capsules
The first would be to stop as many lows as possible, while also not going high which has its own detrimental effects. The easiest way to do this is by using a continuous glucose monitor, such as a Dexcom, which has alarms that warn you of lows and highs with little lag time. Once on a CGM, translate your glucose trends into better insulin doses that keep your readings more normal and stable.
It is very important to stop nighttime lows, which many people have but are unaware of. The CGM can help you with this or you can set your clock to waken you in the night to check your glucose
Pay particular attention that your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are kept under good control, especially if you have any family history of strokes, heart attacks, or Alzheimer’s. The brain is a vascular organ, and we have great meds that protect against vascular damage.
Take an anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or even better disalcid, to keep levels of inflammation down. Ask your doctor about the best choice to make for this therapy.
Lastly, consider taking an antioxidant complex and omega3 fish oil capsules regularly. Try to eat fish and shellfish two to three times a week. One way that low readings interfere with mental function, besides the low glucose supply to the brain, is through release of free radicals (unpaired electrons) into the brain. Thinking originates from the passage of electrons through neurons. The release of excessive levels of reactive unpaired electrons (oxidants) during hypoglycemia appears to interfere with thinking. Many of my patients have commented that they are able to think more clearly during lows when they take an antioxidant complex. However, do not take just vitamin C or E. Antioxidant defense depends on a coordinated group of vitamins and other natural compounds that work together as a defensive army. Get a good antioxidant complex that contains some E, C, selenium, cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, and other protective elements.
Fatty acids in fish oil improve the flexibility of brain cell membranes and reduce inflammation. Both of these actions may provide minor brain benefits, as well as extra heart protection as recommended by the American Heart Association.
Let us know if this helps.
John Walsh, P.A.
Thank you so much John for your explanation. I've been looking for the connection between diabetes and short memory loss.. Cool..
I have been Type 1 for 38 years. My general health is very good, except for my memory. In trying to stay between 90 and 120 mg/dl, I have experienced numerous insulin reactions over the years. Many times, I woke up to a dozen firefighters in my bedroom having given them a hell of a fight and not remembering any of it. A few times I was hospitalized. Gratefully, that is not happening anymore since I got my Dexcom glucose monitor.
However, my memory and recall have progressively become seriously impaired. If you ask me a question, for most things, I will have no idea what you are talking about. I know I get this blank stare and then panic because I know I should know and can't put my hands on the information no matter how I concentrate. If I can scrounge up a link of some kind up there in my gray matter, I can sometimes retrace my steps and find a way to reconstruct the history. But that is usually a long shot. And usually not fast enough to make a difference. Otherwise, it is honestly just a blank, white page.
I've become well practiced in pretending. Which gets me into its own kind of trouble. So as not to appear stupid, I have learned to fabricate answers that will either allow me time to search the databanks and see if I can find what I should know, or move the conversation to the next item so that I can do the search unbeknownst to them. Unfortunately, this often causes me to create an answer too soon, and a bit later, I realize I misspoke. At work, this really looks incompetent, or worse, that I am just a liar. At its best, it makes me feel insane; at its worst, stupid. How much of intelligence is memory? A lot, I think.