Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)

Updated on May 17, 2017
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Stephanie Hicks has been a type 1 diabetic for 15 years. She manages the disease with an insulin pump, doctor visits, diet, and exercise.

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 under the age of six. I was exhausted to the point that I would fall asleep on the couch within minutes of closing my eyes. I was constantly thirsty, and I assumed 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.

High Blood Sugar May Indicate Diabetes

Blood glucose levels over 240 mg/dl are considered dangerously high
Blood glucose levels over 240 mg/dl are considered dangerously high | Source

Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Sugar

If you are suffering from hyperglycemia, you may notice some or all of these symptoms. 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
  • Headache
  • 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

Diabetes testing supplies
Diabetes testing supplies | Source

Treating Hyperglycemia

You should always contact a medical professional if you suspect or know that you have this condition. 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.

Some diabetics may use an insulin pump to treat high blood sugar
Some diabetics may use an insulin pump to treat high blood sugar | Source

Do You Suspect or Have Diabetes?

See results

Differences Between Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Stephanie Hicks


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      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thank you solarshingles - I am happy to share my personal experiences with hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia to help others. Sometimes, I take my relatively good health for granted. Then, when I have very high blood sugar, I remember that this is a serious illness. Best to you, Steph

      • solarshingles profile image

        solarshingles 5 years ago from london

        A 'must read' for every single person! Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia are life threatening conditions. Stephanie, thank you very much for sharing your own extensive life experiences about these two medical conditions in so attractive and educational manner.

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Hi Carlos, I know what you mean! Thank you for the compliment and comment. Best to you, Steph

      • Carlos Catatonia profile image

        Carlos Catatonia 5 years ago from new orleans, louisiana

        I hate reading stuff about health problems because they always make me feel like I have whatever it is being described, nonetheless I enjoyed this. The way you write is personal, informative and captivating. Great hub

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thank you teaches! You are right that diabetes is on the rise and people need to know the signs and symptoms of high blood sugar to get treated as soon as possible. Cheers, Steph

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

        I thank you for keeping us informed of diabetes and how it affects the body. With the rise of this disease, it is always a good thing to get regular checkups when you may suspect one of the symptoms you describe in your hub. Voted up.

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thanks drbj, I sure hope that my experience with high blood sugar helps others. Best, Steph

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

        What excellent information and videos, Steph, about hyperglycemia. Your hub just might save a reader's life.

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Vwriter, yes. That is exactly the level of thirst that someone with high blood sugar (and likely diabetes) experiences. Before my diagnosis, I literally could not walk past a drinking fountain without stopping for several minutes to gulp thirstily. I am glad you got a diagnosis for your husband and hope that treatment is going well. Best, Steph

      • vwriter profile image

        vwriter 5 years ago from US

        Great hub. My husband had a bad instance before being diagnosed with Diabetes. We went to a restaurant, and he was extremely thirsty. And I mean extremely thirsty. He went through 2 pitchers of water, before the waitress slammed the last pitcher of water on the table and walked off. I couldn't believe anyone could drink that must. It was then that I said it was time to go to the doctor, something was just not right. Voted up.

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Yes, that is correct! Thank you for reading and commenting. Best to you, Steph

      • incomeguru profile image

        Oyewole Folarin 5 years ago from Lagos

        Well researched hub. Now, is it true that increased urination and excessive thirst are also symptoms of diabetes?

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thanks all! Yes, it is easy to explain away the symptoms as something else. RealHousewife, I really hope that you get some answers from a blood test! Keep me posted - Best, Steph

      • RealHousewife profile image

        Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

        Oh I should be thanking you - and I am!

        I had gestational diabetes 2 out of 3 times. Weird! It happens though and I know it can be a precursor to full blown diabetes. Ive been feeling "off" a lot lately. I am going to check my sugar ASAP...I didn't even consider this but a few of the symptoms you posted bother me!

        I have had a scrape on the top of my foot and it just won't just within the last few days got better but I've been using a topical ointment and cleaning it frequently. Yeah, I better check on this!

        This is an excellent - terrific article. So many people dismiss the symptoms because they often are not debilitating until it's way our of control!

      • yogeshgiriseo profile image

        yogeshgiriseo 5 years ago from India

        It's very informative post

      • seigfried23 profile image

        seigfried23 5 years ago

        Thanks for this resource. Truly important.

      • Happyboomernurse profile image

        Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

        This is a very important hub and your personal story about how insidious the onset can be and how easy it is to attribute symptoms to other causes, made what you said even more compelling.

        Hope you are feeling better and thank you for sharing potentially life saving information with others.

        Voted up and useful.

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thank you Bill! I have been feeling sick most of the day and it finally occurred to me to use the experience to write a hub! Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting. Cheers, Steph

      • stephhicks68 profile image

        Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

        Thanks Kelley - I am like you. I usually do not feel the highs, but I have had several recently where I have awaken in the middle of the night absolutely parched thirsty! I think that my insulin pump site is not working well, so I changed things out. But, have been suffering from high blood sugars most of today. I really appreciate your comment and read! Best, Steph

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        Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Great hub Steph! Very well-documented and informational. I don't have this problem but I can see it being very helpful for those who do. Well done!

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        kelleyward 5 years ago

        Steph, what an important topic for a hub! You covered this nicely. I don't ever feel high blood sugar but I definitely feel lows. I check my blood sugar 8-10 times a day so I rarely get too high. Thanks again. Voted up and awesome! Take care, Kelley