Diabetes is a serious enough disease on its own, but if you add panic attacks into the mix, it turns out that you could be in some real trouble.
You’re probably asking yourself, “What’s the connection between a blood sugar problem and an emotional disorder?” Well, we’ll get to that, but first, let’s quickly review the two separate health issues on their own.
I know you’ve read about this disease before in our articles, but it can’t hurt to describe it again — information is your best defense against bad health, after all. Diabetes occurs when your body either does not make enough insulin (i.e. Type 1 diabetes) or does not use it effectively (i.e. Type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone that’s secreted by the pancreas; it’s what helps your body turn the food it consumes into the energy you need to function. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the condition, usually showing up later in life.
While both forms of the disease could lead to serious complications — e.g. heart disease, kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve damage — both are manageable. If you make the proper lifestyle changes and follow your doctor’s instructions on treatment and monitoring, you could live a happy and long life.
A panic attack is a seemingly random wave of irrational fear with very real physical effects. It can be very intense, bringing on a pounding heart, a feeling of being unable to breathe (sometimes leading to hyperventilation), chills/hot flashes, tremors, lightheadedness, sweating, chest pain, and extreme feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and dread. Many people say that they feel like they are dying during such an episode. The panic attack is not triggered by any evident reason and could last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. For some people, they are a regular and disabling problem.
Okay, so now to the recently discovered connection. Researchers knew that the emotional disorder depression could make things worse for diabetes sufferers. Moreover, depression and panic attacks have been linked in many people. However, it was not known whether or not panic attacks, without the influence of depression, had any impact on the health of diabetes patients.
That’s where this study, published in the General Hospital Psychiatry journal, comes in. The Seattle researchers surveyed 4,400 diabetic patients. Out of those, 4.4% (193 people) had recurring panic attacks. Of those with panic attacks, 54.5% also reported depression symptoms.
When given the “HbA1c” test, which shows blood sugar levels over a longer period, the people reporting panic attacks had higher percentage levels (8.1%) versus those not experiencing the episodes (7.7%). Normally, an acceptable level is below seven percent. The difference was even more noticeable when it came to the actual symptoms reported by the diabetes patients in the study. The panic attack sufferers had an average of 4.2 diabetes symptoms, while the others only reported 2.4 symptoms. That’s close to twice the number of symptoms!
Now, the question is — why? Does a panic attack set off some kind of physical reaction that exacerbates a diabetic’s condition? No, it’s actually simpler than that, according to the researchers. The disruptive nature of recurring panic attacks could influence a diabetic patient’s ability and willingness to keep up with their self-treatment and the required lifestyle management. This means that the diabetes ends up being poorly controlled, which is what leads to the complications I mentioned earlier. Moreover, the diabetic patients with panic attacks also have a reduced quality of life.
The moral of the story is that panic attacks can be treated and diabetes can be controlled. There’s no reason to put yourself at risk for severe complications. Patients and doctors need to be aware of the link and to stay alert for signs of panic attacks.