Hyperglycemia: What Is It, Symptoms, Prevention & Emergencies

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Maintaining stable blood sugar levels and keeping them within the target range is an important task for people with diabetes. Glucose in the blood cannot be effectively utilized and will build up in the bloodstream and lead to hyperglycemia.

If hyperglycemia isn’t properly managed, it can increase the risk of diabetes complications and may also lead to serious hyperglycemic emergencies such as diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar glycemic state.

What exactly is hyperglycemia? What are the symptoms? What causes hyperglycemic emergencies? We’ll discuss all important knowledge about hyperglycemia so that you will not have to worry about your blood sugar spikes!

What Causes Hyperglycemia?

Here are some factors that can lead to hyperglycemia in people with diabetes:

  • Medication: Not taking medications as prescribed, stopping or reducing the dosage of hyperglycemic drugs or insulin on your own can potentially lead to hyperglycemia. 
  • Diet: Overeating can lead to hyperglycemia. It’s therefore important to keep calorie and food portions under control.
  • Illness and infection: sickness, infection, and inflammation can lead to hyperglycemia as well since your body releases certain hormones to fight the infection, which can impact your blood sugar levels. 
  • Emotional factors: Feeling stressed or anxious can also lead to short-term rise in blood sugar levels.
  • Treatment: Missing regular diabetes treatment or not seeking medical care for a long time can also lead to hyperglycemia.

What Are the Symptoms of High Blood Sugar?

Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
  • Frequent hunger, excessive thirst, and urinating large amounts.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and reduced appetite.
  • Fatigue, blurred vision.
  • Dehydration, dry skin.
  • Sunken eyes, rapid heartbeat.
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness in some severe cases.

What Are Hyperglycemic Emergencies

When blood sugar rises very high and fast, it can lead to hyperglycemic emergencies, namely Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS) and Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA).

Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS)

Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS) usually occurs in people with type 2 diabetes when the insulin in their body can no longer maintain blood sugar balance, resulting in severe hyperglycemia (blood sugar levels above 600mg/dL or 33.3/mmol/L).

The hyperosmolar state will lead to frequent urination and dehydration, but there are no significant amount of ketones in the blood or urine.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic Ketoacidosis occurs more often in people with type 1 diabetes. The main causes are interruptions in insulin treatment or accidental contraction of other illnesses. Due to insufficient amount of insulin in the body, it starts breaking down fats and producing ketones, sometimes resulting in a fruity smell on the breath.

Symptoms of Hyperglycemic Emergencies

  • Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State: Confusion, loss of consciousness, slower and deeper breathing
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis: Rapid, shallow breathing, fruity smell on breath, presence of ketones in urine.

How to Deal with Hyperglycemia?

If you have hyperglycemia symptoms, first assess your condition and take actions accordingly. If you are still conscious, immediately check your blood sugar levels to verify if they’re out of the target range.

If you can still eat and do not have other symptoms, it’s recommended to rest and drink some water to alleviate the symptoms.

If the symptoms are not self-manageable, seek medical assistance immediately and closely monitor your blood sugar and electrolyte levels.

Potential Risks of Hypoglycemia

Aside from the aforementioned hyperglycemic emergencies caused by sudden blood sugar spikes, chronic hyperglycemia can also lead to many complications. These include:

  • Retinopathy
  • Nephropathy 
  • Neuropathy
  • Diabetic foot disease
  • Macrovascular complications like heart disease and stroke

How to Avoid Hyperglycemia and Complications of Diabetes

  • Take medication as prescribed: Follow your doctor’s instructions for glucose-lowering drugs or insulin therapy
  • Regular follow-up attendance: Take regular blood tests and check-ups related to diabetes
  • Self-monitor Blood sugar: Know how your blood sugar changes over time and keep track of your health
  • Stick to a healthy diet: Follow dietary guidelines or recommendations from your nutritionists to adjust your eating habits and maintain a balanced diet
  • Engage in regular exercise: People with diabetes should note that if fasting blood sugar level is higher than 300mg/dL or approximately 16.7mmol/L, it’s recommended to stop exercising to avoid sudden blood sugar spike and ketone accumulation due to insufficient insulin.

Developing healthy habits such as engaging in regular exercise and having a balanced diet is key to better control of blood sugar prevention from serious complications.

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