Hyperglycemia (Elevated Blood Sugar) And Diabetes
Hyperglycemia is the medical term for unusually elevated levels of blood sugar. Though it is usually a tell-tale sign of either type 1 and type 2 diabetes, other conditions can cause this rise in glucose levels too. These conditions include pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, Cushing’s syndrome, severe illnesses and certain medications.
Hyperglycemia is the term used for individuals with high blood sugar, the opposite of hypoglycemia, and commonly associated with diabetes. The condition happens when there is not enough insulin in the body, or it cannot use the insulin present to convert glucose into energy.
A significant rise in glucose levels can lead to other medical problems, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS). HHNS is predominately found in those with type 2 diabetes, and causes severe dehydration, increases the risk of a coma, and even death.
Statistics and Facts
Several factors can cause a rise in glucose levels, especially in those diagnosed with diabetes, which includes:
- Not enough physical activity
- Excessive amount of food
- Insulin that has gone bad due to extreme heat or cold
- Illness, infection, injury or surgery
- An ineffective or inaccurate glucose meter
- Skipped insulin or dose of medication for diabetes control
If glucose levels are reading over 600 mg/dl, hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS) is possible, causing severe dehydration that could lead to seizures, coma and eventually death. Some of the warning signs of HHNS include:
- Extreme thirst
- High fever
- Loss of vision
- Warm, dry skin that presents no sweat
- Dry mouth
- Fatigue or confusion
- Weakness on one side of the body
HHNS can develop most commonly in older patients with uncontrolled glucose levels but can happen to anyone living with type 2 diabetes that is not being carefully monitored.
Common symptoms of hyperglycemia are very similar to those of HHNS. If you are closely monitoring glucose levels and obtain readings of over 180 mg/dl for three days or more, you may experience:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth and skin
- Unexplained weight loss
- Cuts and sores that are slow to heal
- Frequent infections
Any of these can be an indication of hyperglycemia. If these symptoms start to affect you, in addition to monitoring glucose levels through at-home testing kits, there are several questions you can ask yourself to help determine what to do about the rise in blood sugar.
- Have you increased or altered eating habits or food choices?
- Has the amount of physical activity decreased?
- Have you been taking the proper dosage of medication?
- Does your insulin look different, or was it exposed to extreme heat or cold?
- Examine your meter and testing strips, and ask yourself:
Have the strips expired?
Was there damage to your monitor or is it calibrated correctly?
Did you test with enough blood?
- How are you feeling?
Depending on your answers to these questions, you may need to contact your doctor or seek emergency care to prevent any complications from setting in.
Once it is determined that there is a rise in your glucose levels, there are several options to try to lower the amount of blood sugar before symptoms begin to present.
First, drink plenty of water. It is recommended that people should drink a minimum of eight classes each day. Drinking the recommended amount is a good rule for everyone, but especially individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes.
Second, check the blood sugar levels frequently for three days straight. If altering your diet or increasing the amount of physical activity doesn’t help lower them, you may require a change in the dosage or medication prescribed to you.
However, if ketones are present in the urine, exercise would not be a recommended action to lower glucose levels. When ketones are present in the body, exercise can raise the glucose levels even higher.
Finally, contact your healthcare provider for assistance with the amount of insulin you are taking in each dose. Over time, changes in your physiology may require adjustment of dosage or your insulin could be expired or damaged.
The most recommended treatment for hyperglycemia is carefully monitoring one’s glucose levels and increasing the amount of physical activity one does in a day. Adjusting one’s insulin dosage can help to control hyperglycemia, or adding a supplemental short-acting insulin can contribute to returning levels to a targeted range.
If the patient is presenting with severe levels of hyperglycemia, emergency intervention is required to prevent serious complications. These treatments include:
- Fluid replacement through an I.V. until the body rehydrated.
- Electrolyte replacement to add necessary minerals needed for normal heart, nerve, and muscle function.
- Insulin therapy delivered through an I.V. until glucose levels return to normal.
Once the glucose levels begin to read under the targeted number, the doctors can then help determine what caused the elevated levels in the first place. If they find it was due to a bacterial infection, the medical staff will want to prescribe antibiotics to treat the underlying contamination.
If left untreated for a brief time, hyperglycemia can cause the individual to feel tired, extremely thirsty and experience blurred vision. If treatment for the rise in blood sugar is applied shortly after diagnosis, the patient can return to normal activity and regular daily management of blood sugar through diet, exercise, and insulin.
When hyperglycemia goes untreated for an extended period, the individual can develop a life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis. This condition occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin. Without a sufficient about of insulin present in the body, it cannot break down fats to use for energy. Ketoacidosis can lead to coma and even death.
Other long-term effects of elevated glucose levels include blindness, nerve damage, kidney damage and even kidney failure. These conditions are due to the damage caused by blood vessels that help these areas of the body function properly.
People can also experience problems with their teeth and gums, bone and joint problems, bacterial or fungal skin infections, cataracts and cardiovascular disease.
Hyperglycemia is a serious condition that can lead to multiple short- and long-term effects if left untreated. By closing monitoring glucose levels with a home-testing kit, eating a healthy diet, drinking the recommended daily amount of water, and increasing physical activity, it is possible to stave off hyperglycemia and its effects on the body.