Hyperglycemia is defined as the increase of blood sugar levels, that can happen occasionally or continuously. People who is not familiar with diabetes call this “to have high sugar levels”, and this can happen both to people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
We will consider it hyperglycemia when, talking about a person with diabetes, their blood sugar levels are higher than what is considered target levels. Generically speaking, we are talking about hyperglycemia when levels are higher than 130 mg/dl while fasting or before meals, and higher than 180mg/dl after meals.
Blood sugar levels are considered too high when they are above 250 mg/dl. If we reach these levels, we should check our ketone levels in our blood or urine. This is extremely important when we are talking about people with type 1 diabetes.
Why does hyperglycemia take place?
The reasons why somebody with type 1 diabetes can suffer a hyperglycemia are usually caused by the own body, that cannot count with an enough insulin amount. This can be because it has not been injected or due to stress or other diseases, but it can also be because there is an excess of counter-regulating hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, glucagon…) that lead to an increase of glycaemia.
Hyperglycemia in type 2 diabetes patients usually takes place because the body cannot use insulin in a correct way. Besides, some type of drugs can cause an increase in blood sugar levels.
There are several reasons why hyperglycemia can take place, but among the most frequent ones we can find:
Reasons related to insulin or other treatments for diabetes:
- to take a lower insulin dose than needed
- to miss an insulin dose
- to take insulin injections in parts where the absorption can be lower
- to use expired or damaged insulin
Reasons related to food or drink intake:
- the intake of a higher amount of carbs than recommended
Reasons related with physical activity:
- to have less exercise than usual
- anaerobic exercise or when performed under stress conditions can also lead to hyperglycemia
Reasons related to stress:
- this can be caused by metabolic stress due to a frequent disease (infections, pharyngitis, surgery, or even the flu)
- also emotional stress (caused by familiar problems, problems at school or work, etc.)
In relation to our hormonal system, the dawn phenomenon can take place. This is an increase in our counter-regulating hormones, produced by our organism daily, around 04 a.m.-05 a.m.
Reasons related to medication intake:
- n some cases, our doctor can prescribe us drugs that increase our blood sugar levels (i.e. corticosteroids), but that are essential to treat some disease
- some drugs can also contain sucrose in their composition and this can affect glycemia levels
Symptoms of hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia can produce several symptoms. Among the most frequent:
- polyuria (a frequent need to urinate) or nocturnal enuresis (bed-wetting)
- polydipsia (an extreme need to drink, excessive thirst)
- nausea and vomit
- tiredness and sleepiness
- dryness in lips and tongue
- blurry vision
- belly pain
- yeast infection (when hyperglycemia is constant)
- delayed healing of wounds (when hyperglycemia is constant and diabetes controlled non-efficiently)
*these sypmtoms can also take place with ketoacidosis.
What to do in a case of hyperglycemia?
- First of all, we should know the reasons for the hyperglycemia
- We need to drink plenty. Water is the best option, avoiding any drink with sugar (no soda, coke, or juice)
- We also need to increase our blood sugar or even ketone levels tests, specially when glycemias reach 250mg/dl. This way we can avoid complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis (on type 1 diabetes patients) or hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS) in type 2 diabetes patients.
- If there are no ketone bodies, to do some physical activity is recommended whenever there is no disease that impedes this.
- Make sure you are taking the corrective treatment recommended by the healthcare professional and do not stop your basal treatment.
- Eat food with a low glycemic index.
- In the case of children of teenagers during the school period, it is important to keep teachers and professors informed so they can give them access to liquids and the toilet whenever they may need it.
- If these high blood sugar levels are kept for days, it is recommended to ask the healthcare professional in case it is needed to readjust our treatment.
Some advice to prevent hyperglycemias
- Always try to have control of your diabetes, according to your personal objectives. Remember that we are all different and amounts and levels may change, so set your targets with your healthcare professional.
- Keep your insulin and medication under optimal conditions regarding storage. Do not take your medications if you have doubts they might be damaged.
- If you use insulin or other antidiabetes injections, do not forget it is very important to change the injection area. If you always take your doses in the same place, the absorption will be more difficult and the effect will not be the same.
- If you carry an insulin pump, we recommend you to check all its components every now and then to make sure they are in perfect conditions.
- Try to be active and do some physical exercise according to your possibilities: small changes in your daily habits can really improve your diabetes control (i.e. taking the stairs, walking, dancing…). This exercise must be appropriate to you, aerobical, and take place daily or almost daily during the same amount of time and at the same intensity. Try searching for activities you are interested in to avoid losing interest.
- If you have doubts regarding types of food, physical exercise our your treatment, do not hesitate to contact a healthcare professional or caregiver.
- Do not forget that with diabetes, even when having a good control of the disease there can be situations that may alter our sugar levels. The important thing here is to detect them in time and correct them appropriately.