A diabetes diagnosis can signify a lifetime of challenges, as this chronic condition can affect many aspects of one’s health. The most obvious impacts of diabetes are physical: nerve damage, kidney disease, and poor circulation, to name a few. However, diabetes can also be unkind to the psychological health of those it afflicts. One example is a phenomenon known colloquially as diabetic rage which, though not recognized as a medical condition, is understood by some to be a potential consequence of diabetes.

This article intends to explain the nature, causes, symptoms, and treatment of diabetic rage. We would like to stress the importance of compassion and empathy for those who may be struggling with rage, and to avoid stigmatizing those in need of care. Please recognize that nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice, nor should it be used for the purposes of diagnosing or treating any illness. The authors do not guarantee the accuracy of any information contained in this article. Always consult with your doctor if you have any concerns about your health, mood, or diabetes treatment plan (or those of loved ones).

What is Diabetic Rage?

In plain terms, diabetic rage describes the mental state of a diabetic individual who, due to psychological and physiological factors, experiences uncharacteristic anger, hostility, or irritability. This mental state can manifest in aggressive, violent, impulsive, or abusive speech or behavior, and can pose a danger to both those suffering from it and those in their proximity. These episodes are more likely to occur in individuals whose diabetes is poorly controlled, though the incidence and extent of this symptom will vary for each diabetic individual.

Causes

Let’s not sugar coat things: life with diabetes can be tough on the mind. The financial drain, anxiety about one’s health, and a feeling of deprivation or injustice from enduring a chronic health condition can all contribute to a souring of one’s mood. However, while these feelings alone can be daunting, they fall well within the range of what a person might be expected to experience given the circumstances.

Diabetic rage describes something altogether different. While one’s psychological state may certainly play a role in an episode of diabetic rage, the root causes almost certainly include physiological factors. To understand why a disease that disrupts blood sugar regulation would cause behavioral changes, consider that glucose is fuel for every tissue in the body, including the brain. To function and regulate itself properly, the brain requires a substantial, reliable, and steady supply of glucose. When this supply is disrupted by either an excess or deficiency of blood sugar (as with hyper- and hypoglycemia, respectively), parts of the brain can function improperly, and may even suffer permanent damage.

Other factors that are downstream of diabetes may also play a role, like hormonal dysregulation, stress, a lack of sleep. Thus, the better controlled one’s blood sugar is, the less likely they are to experience diabetic rage, as with many other diabetes complications.

Senior male experiencing stress

Anger or Diabetic Rage: Recognizing the Difference

A universal truth about diabetes is that it affects everyone differently. No two diabetics experiencing diabetic rage are likely to experience precisely the same symptoms, and their experience with the condition is likely to be influenced by their treatment, lifestyle factors, and inherent biological makeup. However, to generalize, the following symptoms may be indicators that a diabetic is experiencing psychological changes that should be addressed and evaluated by a doctor.

A hallmark of diabetic rage is the progression from thoughts and emotion to actions. We’ve already expressed how taxing life with diabetes can be for one’s mental health. When these negative feelings manifest into uncharacteristically aggressive or hostile words or actions, however, this may indicate a physiological element is in play.

Violence against property and people is unacceptable, but unfortunately is not uncommon amongst those experiencing acute diabetic rage. To state the obvious, there are many other reasons a person might behave violently, particularly if they have an unrelated mental condition that makes them prone to such outbursts. The key to recognizing diabetic rage is to look for behaviour that is out of the ordinary for the person in question. If an outburst seems disproportionate to the situation that provoked it, or if the person is otherwise calm and peaceful, this should be noted to a doctor (and, if the situation calls for it, the police).

The remaining symptoms of diabetic rage tend to follow a similar pattern, namely, uncharacteristic occurrences which suggest an extreme level of anger, frustration, and/or irritability. Physical confrontation, agitation, delusional thoughts,  loss of control, tantrums, intimidation and otherwise belligerent behavior can all result from and indicate diabetic rage.

Coping Strategies

This section outlines some approaches that some individuals may benefit from. Remember that diabetic rage can be a serious complication of diabetes and deserves professional attention. Only consider taking any of these actions if you have first consulted with your doctor and obtained their professional approval to do so, and do not consider any of these steps to be a substitute for proper medical advice or treatment.

Handling blood sugar

Unsurprisingly, many diabetes complications can be avoided or minimized through proper blood sugar maintenance. The same may apply to avoiding diabetic rage. Ensure you are following your healthcare professionals’ advice on how to treat your diabetes – this might include staying on top of blood sugar monitoring, sticking to a healthy and diabetes-friendly diet, and exercising regularly. Be sure to see your doctor for checkups and consultations at regular intervals and report any abnormal trends you’ve observed in your blood sugar to them.

Checking blood sugar levels

Rooting out root causes

We’ve discussed that there may be psychological elements to diabetic rage. Perhaps a person may have underlying anxieties, fears, or resentments that predispose them to become enraged when they experience a physiological trigger.

Accessing mental health resources like a licensed therapist or psychologist can be expensive, but for those with the means to do so, these can be helpful ways to root out any underlying issues and address them therapeutically. For those without said access, there may be non-profit or publicly-funded services available to offer psychological support on a more economically feasible scale.

Other resources for mental wellness

Besides seeing mental health professionals, other steps can be taken to improve one’s overall mental well-being. Plenty of social resources may exist that can be drawn from to great effect. For example, anger management courses or support sessions can draw together people struggling with similar issues in a supportive environment. Speaking to trusted friends, family members, and loved ones can also help you to explain your perspective and how you may not always be able to control your emotions.

Finding ways in your personal life to siphon of some stress or anxiety is likely to be a helpful habit. This may take a different form for everyone, and no one correct answer exists, but examples may include meditation, yoga, a gentle walk, or mindfulness activities. In this way, developing a greater awareness of, and ability to respond to, your own mental state can help you detect and intervene in the development of rage episodes before they result in harmful behavior.

Outdoor yoga class

Keeping a journal

Though you may not have kept a diary since your teenage years, journalling about your rage episodes can help you become informed about how the condition affects you. Consider developing a habit of recording how and when you experience rage. Try to include as much potentially relevant information as possible, like what you ate that day, what you were doing when the episode occu