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June 12, 1999

Hypoglycemia

Question from Illinois, USA:

Is there any research on sudden behavior changes in early childhood related to diabetes? My son has sudden mood changes that can last 20 minutes to an hour. Afterward he is glassy-eyed and lifeless for at least 15 minutes.

Answer:

I think that the most likely cause of the mood changes that you describe is hypoglycemia. This is sometimes hard to detect by doing a blood test because counterregulatory hormones may restore blood sugar levels rather promptly and some time before the symptoms pass. Another clue would be if these episodes seem to relate to vigorous exercise or delayed meals or if a normal mood can be promptly restored by a simple carbohydrate source like orange juice.

However, I suspect that you have already explored this possibility and if this is so I think you need to discuss with his doctor that this may reflect some sort of epilepsy, i.e., temporal lobe epilepsy or absences. This would be more likely if there was a family history or if there was a story of severe hypoglycemia in the past or of birth injury. Such a suggestion may be worrisome so let me add that if the latter diagnosis turns out to be right, it is a problem that should be relatively straightforward to treat. In any case, it seems important to get to the bottom of the problem because of its potential to interfere with school performance and indeed with daily living.

DOB