Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)
High Blood Sugar Makes You Sick and is a Serious Medical Issue
I have had diabetes for nearly ten years now.
What appeared to start as gestational diabetes during my pregnancy with twins was actually the onset of Type 1 diabetes. Because I have always eaten a healthy diet and been a runner all of my life, the doctors did not expect that I would go on to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. They suggested that I test my blood glucose levels 1-2 times a week with a blood sugar meter for the first few months after delivering the babies to ensure that all was well.
Unfortunately, I did not notice the signs and symptoms of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) because I thought the way I felt was natural due to postpartum recovery, dealing with two babies at the same time, and raising four children ages 5 and under. I was exhausted to the point that I would fall asleep on the couch within minutes of closing my eyes. I was thirsty constantly and expected that breastfeeding two babies was the cause. I applied the same explanation to my constant, extreme hunger and the fact that I was dropping pregnancy weight very quickly without much exercise.
When I finally tested my blood sugar, my levels were significantly elevated, putting me and my babies at risk. My blood glucose levels were over 550 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), which is the measure used in the U.S. for diagnosing and treating diabetes. A healthy person will be in the range of 80-120 mg/dl. A reading over 200 mg/dl is often required for a diabetes diagnosis.
When your sugars rise above 240 mg/dl, you can become very sick as your blood literally becomes acidic. This occurs when your body breaks down muscle tissue for energy because it is unable to obtain glucose directly from your blood. As blood glucose levels rise, ketoacidosis may set in, causing loss of consciousness or even death, if left untreated.
Signs of High Blood Sugar May Indicate Diabetes
Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Sugar
If you are suffering from hyperglycemia, you may notice some or all of these symptoms of high blood sugar. Contact your doctor immediately if you are concerned about the length or severity of your symptoms:
- Persistent extreme thirst
- Having to urinate much more frequently than normal
- Nausea unrelated to flu or medications
- Unexplained, rapid weight loss
- Extreme tiredness/exhaustion
- Hungry and eating more often than normal
- Tingling in hands and/or feet
- Scratches or sores that take a long time to heal
- Blurred vision or other changes in vision
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Loss of consciousness
What Causes High Blood Sugar?
There are a number of possible causes for high blood sugar. Glucose levels can rise in your blood if your pancreas does not produce sufficient amounts of the hormone insulin, or if your body has become insulin-resistant for some reason. Either of these conditions may result in a diagnosis of diabetes.
Insulin is the "key" that unlocks our cells to receive glucose (either ingested as food and digested, or stored glucose released from the liver) to give us energy and keep us alive.
With Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune reaction causes the body to attack itself and kill the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This disease comes on quickly. Type 2 diabetes may develop over time when a person's body frequently demands large amounts of insulin due to a poor diet, lack of exercise and/or heredity. The body may be unable to keep up with insulin demands, causing extra glucose to build up in the blood, or the cells themselves become less receptive to insulin.
When a patient is diagnosed with diabetes - whether Type 1 or Type 2 - the doctor will prescribe medication and recommend diet and exercise. You will likely meet with a nutritionist that will help you learn how to count carbohydrates and make healthy food choices, as well as a diabetes educator that will show you how to test blood sugar, record blood glucose readings, and give you specific instructions regarding taking insulin or other medication.
Symptoms of Diabetes
How Does High Blood Sugar Occur When You Take Insulin or Other Diabetes Medications
Even if you are being treated for diabetes, you can experience high blood sugar.
There a number of reasons that hyperglycemia can occur despite taking diabetes medications:
- Eating too many carbohydrates and/or a high fat meal; improper dosing occurs often when you underestimate what you are about to ingest
- High stress and/or lack of sleep; this results in your body releasing too much stored glucose from your liver, pouring additional blood sugar into your system
- Illness; as with high stress or lack of sleep, your body is in a fight or flight response, pouring out stored glucose to "help you" address the threat. The problem is that your medication dosage cannot take into consideration stress levels and the consequence is your blood sugar levels rise.
- Weight gain or loss affects the appropriate dosage of diabetes medications. Be sure to tell your doctor if your weight changes by more than 5%.
- Interactions with other medications, supplements or food may increase or decrease your insulin sensitivity
You should always contact a medical professional if you suspect or know that you have high blood sugar. Do not wait to take action, as diabetes can be life threatening if not treated immediately.
Among other things your doctor may suggest include:
- Testing your urine with keto sticks to determine if you are showing signs of ketoacidosis
- Taking additional insulin and/or other medications - be sure to be clear concerning dosage so you do not over-treat and end up with hypoglycemia
- Waiting to eat until blood glucose levels are below 240 mg/dl
- Drinking at least 24-48 fluid ounces of plain, clear water
- Avoiding high carbohydrate, high fat foods
- Testing your blood sugar more frequently than normal to ensure that levels are returning to normal
In extreme situations, you may be required to go to the hospital for emergency room treatment.