What is hyperglycemia?
High blood glucose, or hyperglycemia, can cause major health complications in people with diabetes over time. Several factors can contribute to hyperglycemia, including eating more carbohydrates than normal and being less physically active than normal.
Regular blood sugar testing is crucial for people with diabetes, because many people do not feel the symptoms of high blood sugar.
What are the symptoms of hyperglycemia?
Short-term symptoms of high blood sugar include:
- excessive thirst
- excessive urination
- increased urination at night
- blurry vision
- sores that won’t heal
If you experience symptoms of hyperglycemia, it’s important that you check your blood glucose levels. Untreated high blood sugar can lead to chronic complications, such as eye, kidney, or heart disease or nerve damage.
The symptoms listed above can develop over several days or weeks. The longer the condition is left untreated, the more severe the problem may become. Generally, blood glucose levels greater than 180 mg/dL after meals — or over 130 mg/dL before eating — are considered high. Be sure to check with your doctor to learn your blood sugar targets.
What causes hyperglycemia?
A number of conditions or factors can contribute to hyperglycemia, including:
- eating more carbohydrates than usual
- being less physically active than usual
- being ill or having an infection
- experiencing high levels of stress
- not getting the right dosage of glucose-lowering medication
How is hyperglycemia treated?
There are several treatment methods available for hyperglycemia:
Monitoring glucose levels
An important part of managing your diabetes is checking your blood glucose level often. You should then record that number in a notebook, blood glucose log, or blood sugar tracking app so you and your doctor can monitor your treatment plan. Knowing when your blood glucose levels are getting out of your target range can help you get blood sugar back under control before more significant problems arise.
Exercise is one of the best and most effective ways to keep your blood glucose levels where they should be and lower them if they get too high. If you are on medications that increase insulin, be sure to talk to your doctor to determine the best times to exercise. If you have complications such as nerve or eye damage, talk to your doctor about exercises that best suit you.
An important note: If you have had diabetes for an extended period of time and are on insulin therapy, talk to your doctor to see if there are any limitations for exercise with high blood sugar levels. For example, if your blood glucose is above 240 mg/dL, your doctor may have you check your urine for ketones.
If you have ketones, do not exercise. Your doctor may also tell you not to exercise if your blood glucose is above 300 mg/dL even without ketones. Exercising when ketones are in your body may cause your blood glucose level to go even higher. While it is rare for those with type 2 diabetes to experience this, it is still best to be safe.
Analyze your eating habits
Work with a dietitian or nutritionist to construct a healthy, interesting selection of meals that can help manage your carbohydrate intake and prevent higher blood glucose levels.
Evaluate your treatment plan
You doctor may reevaluate your treatment plan based on your personal health history and your experiences with hyperglycemia. They may change the amount, type, or timing of your diabetes medication. Do not adjust your medicines without first talking to your doctor or nurse educator.
What are the complications of hyperglycemia?
Untreated and chronic hyperglycemia can cause serious complications. These include:
- nerve damage, or neuropathy
- kidney damage, or nephropathy
- kidney failure
- cardiovascular disease
- eye disease, or retinopathy
- foot problems caused by damaged nerves and poor blood flow
- skin problems, such as bacterial and fungal infections
Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome
This condition is most common in elderly people with type 2 diabetes. It may be accompanied by a trigger such as an illness. When blood glucose levels are high, the kidneys excrete sugar in the urine, taking water with it.
This causes the blood to become more concentrated, leading to high sodium and blood sugar levels. This can increase water loss and worsen dehydration. Blood glucose levels may get as high as 600 mg/dL. If left untreated, hyperosmolar syndrome may lead to life-threatening dehydration and even coma.
How is hyperglycemia prevented?
Good diabetes management and careful monitoring of your blood glucose are both very effective means for preventing hyperglycemia or stopping it before it gets worse.
Test and record your blood glucose levels on a regular basis each day. Share this information with your doctor at every appointment.
Know how many carbohydrates you’re eating at each meal and snack. Strive to stay in the amount approved by your doctor or dietitian. Keep this information with your blood sugar levels.
Be diabetes smart
Have a plan of action for if and when your blood glucose reaches certain levels. Take your medication as prescribed, being consistent about the amount and timing of your meals and snacks.
Wear medical identification
Medical bracelets or necklaces can help alert emergency responders to your diabetes if there is a greater problem.