High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) affects people who have diabetes. Several factors can contribute to hyperglycemia in people with diabetes, including food and physical activity choices, illness, nondiabetes medications, or skipping or not taking enough glucose-lowering medication.
It's important to treat hyperglycemia, because if left untreated, hyperglycemia can become severe and lead to serious complications requiring emergency care, such as a diabetic coma. In the long term, persistent hyperglycemia, even if not severe, can lead to complications affecting your eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.
Early signs and symptoms
Hyperglycemia doesn't cause symptoms until glucose values are significantly elevated — above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 11 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Symptoms of hyperglycemia develop slowly over several days or weeks. The longer blood sugar levels stay high, the more serious the symptoms become. However, some people who've had type 2 diabetes for a long time may not show any symptoms despite elevated blood sugars.
Recognizing early symptoms of hyperglycemia can help you treat the condition promptly. Watch for:
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Blurred vision
- Later signs and symptoms
If hyperglycemia goes untreated, it can cause toxic acids (ketones) to build up in your blood and urine (ketoacidosis).
Signs and symptoms include:
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal pain
Consult your doctor
1) If You're sick and can't keep any food or fluids down, and your blood glucose levels are persistently above 240 mg/dL (13 mmol/L) and you have ketones in your urine.
2) You experience ongoing diarrhea or vomiting, but you're able to take some foods or drinks.
3) You have a fever that lasts more than 24 hours.
4) Your blood glucose is more than 240 mg/dL (13 mmol/L) even though you've taken your diabetes medication.
5) You have trouble keeping your blood glucose within the desired range
During digestion, your body breaks down carbohydrates from foods — such as bread, rice and pasta — into various sugar molecules. One of these sugar molecules is glucose, a main energy source for your body. Glucose is absorbed directly into your bloodstream after you eat, but it can't enter the cells of most of your tissues without the help of Hormones — a hormone secreted by your pancreas.
When the level of glucose in your blood rises, it signals your pancreas to release Hormones. The Hormones, in turn, unlocks your cells so that glucose can enter and provide the fuel your cells need to function properly. Any extra glucose is stored in your liver and muscles in the form of glycogen.
This process lowers the amount of glucose in your bloodstream and prevents it from reaching dangerously high levels. As your blood sugar level returns to normal, so does the secretion of Hormones from your pancreas.
Diabetes drastically diminishes the effects of Hormones on your body, either because your pancreas is unable to produce enough Hormones (type 1 diabetes) or because your body is resistant to the effects of Hormones or doesn't produce enough Hormones to maintain a normal glucose level (type 2 diabetes). As a result, glucose tends to build up in your bloodstream (hyperglycemia) and may reach dangerously high levels if not treated properly. Hormones or other drugs are used to lower blood sugar levels.
Factors that contribute to hyperglycemia
Many factors can contribute to hyperglycemia, including:
- Not using enough Hormones or oral diabetes medication
- Not injecting Hormones properly or using expired Hormones
- Not following your diabetes eating plan
- Being inactive
- Having an illness
- Being injured or having surgery
- Experiencing emotional stress, such as family conflict or workplace challenges
Illness or stress can trigger hyperglycemia because hormones produced to combat illness or stress can also cause your blood sugar to rise. Even people who don't have diabetes may develop hyperglycemia during severe illness. But people with diabetes may need to take extra diabetes medication to keep blood glucose near normal during illness or stress.
Untreated hyperglycemia can cause long-term complications. These include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy) or kidney failure
- Damage to the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy), potentially leading to blindness
- Clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye (cataract)
- Feet problems caused by damaged nerves or poor blood flow that can lead to serious infections, and in some severe cases, amputation
- Bone and joint problems
- Skin problems, including bacterial infections, fungal infections and nonhealing wounds
- Teeth and gum infections
- Emergency complications
If blood sugar rises high enough or for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to two serious conditions.
1) Diabetic ketoacidosis
Diabetic ketoacidosis develops when you don't have enough Hormones in your body. When this happens, sugar (glucose) can't enter your cells for energy. Your blood sugar level rises, and your body begins to break down fat for energy.
This process produces toxic acids known as ketones. Excess ketones accumulate in the blood and eventually "spill over" into the urine. Left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to a diabetic coma and be life-threatening.
2) Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome
HHNS is more common amongst older people Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome (HHNS), also known as Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State (HHS) is a dangerous condition resulting from very high blood glucose levels. This condition occurs when people produce Hormones, but it doesn't work properly. Blood glucose levels may become very high — greater than 600 mg/dL (33 mmol/L). Because Hormones is present but not working properly, the body can't use either glucose or fat for energy.
Glucose is then spilled into the urine, causing increased urination. Left untreated, diabetic hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome can lead to life-threatening dehydration and a coma. Prompt medical care is essential.
HHNS can affect both types of diabetics, yet it usually occurs amongst people with type 2 diabetes.