What Is Hyperglycemia?

What Is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia, also known as high blood sugar refers to abnormally elevated levels of glucose in the blood.1 High blood sugar occurs when the body has too little insulin or when insulin can’t be used efficiently. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps the body shuttle glucose from the blood into the body’s cells so it can either be used for energy or be effectively stored.

Factors which may contribute to hyperglycemia include (but are not limited to): inadequate or ineffective insulin, eating a large amount of carbohydrate (without adequate insulin coverage), physical inactivity, illness or infection, or the dawn phenomenon (a surge of hormones during early morning hours).2 Symptoms of hyperglycemia include increased thirst, fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, and frequent urination.  

It’s vitally important to recognize the signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia if you are living with type 1 diabetes because if left untreated (e.g. insulin is not properly administered or is unavailable), it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA. DKA may occur when the body doesn’t have enough insulin and therefore can’t properly use glucose which is the body’s main source of energy. Instead, fat and muscle are broken down for energy leading to excessive ketone production.  The buildup of ketones in the blood makes the blood more acidic and may lead to metabolic acidosis. When ketone levels get too high, you may develop dangerous  
DKA, which happens most often in people with type 1 diabetes, although it can occur in some people living with type 2 diabetes.3 

Symptoms of DKA include: 

  • High levels of ketones in the urine 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Fruity smelling breath 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Confusion 
  • Blurry vision 
  • Flushed skin 

It’s important to speak with your health care professional about how often to check your blood glucose (and if appropriate use a continuous glucose monitor or CGM), as symptoms of hyperglycemia may initially be mild.  

Identifying and resolving hyperglycemia as early as possible are key steps to preventing complications. Prolonged hyperglycemia may lead to damage to nerves, eyes, skin and blood vessels.  

References:
1: https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hyperglycemia#:~:text=Hyperglycemia%20is%20the%20technical%20term,can't%20use%20insulin%20properly
2: https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hyperglycemia.
3: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/dka-ketoacidosis-ketones

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