In this article, we look at the relationship between hyperglycemia and diabetes.
When a person eats carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream. Once this happens, the pancreas releases insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that allows the body’s cells to absorb and use sugar from the blood to produce energy.
Blood sugar levels rise when the body does not make enough insulin, or when cells are unable to use insulin properly.
Hyperglycemia and Diabetes
People with prediabetes, whose blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not as high as they are in diabetes, are at risk of developing diabetes.
Doctors diagnose diabetes at a fasting glucose level of 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) and 126 mg/dl.
People with prediabetes will score 140-200 on an oral glucose tolerance test. People with diabetes will score 200 and above.
Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels through two possible mechanisms: insufficient production of insulin in the pancreas, or resistance to insulin action elsewhere in the body.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells resist the action of insulin, and the pancreas does not respond appropriately. It does not inject enough insulin.
People with type 1 diabetes need to take extra insulin to keep their blood sugar under control. Some people with type 2 diabetes may need insulin, although they can also take non-insulin oral medications.
All people with diabetes, regardless of type, should monitor their blood sugar levels to make sure they stay within safe limits.
Causes of Hyperglycemia
Several behaviors can worsen hyperglycemia in people with diabetes, such as:
- Eating too many carbohydrates
- Exercising less than usual
- Taking insufficient amounts of insulin or other diabetes medications
- Experiencing stress from other illnesses or life events
- Treatment with other drugs such as steroids is ongoing.
People with diabetes may need to take extra medication to keep their blood sugar levels stable during times of illness or stress.
The dawn phenomenon, or surge of hormones that occurs between about 4 and 5 a.m., can also raise blood sugar. This is the cause of high blood sugar in the morning.
Symptoms of Hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia can be dangerous, as it often does not cause symptoms until glucose levels become too high.
People who have had type 2 diabetes for many years may have no symptoms despite having high blood sugar. Many people are undiagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Prolonged hyperglycemia increases the risk of diabetes-related complications, such as kidney disease, eye disease, and neuropathy.
Common signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
- Frequent urination ego
- Increased thirst
- Blurred vision
- High sugar levels in the urine
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Cuts or sores that don’t heal
Diagnosis of Hyperglycemia
A person can monitor their blood sugar at home with the help of a finger stick or a continuous glucose monitoring system.
During a doctor’s visit, they may draw blood to accurately determine blood sugar. The A1C test is a blood test that indicates average blood sugar control over the past 3 months.
The A1C test works by measuring the percentage of glucose in the bloodstream that is bound to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. A score greater than 6.5 on this test indicates the presence of diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association recommends the following blood sugar goals for most adults with diabetes who are not pregnant:
- Before meals: Blood sugar should be 80-130 mg/dl.
- About 1-2 hours after starting a meal: Blood sugar should be below 160-180 mg/dl.
Limits may vary depending on age and any underlying medical conditions, such as heart, lung, or kidney disease. Limits also vary for people who are pregnant or experiencing complications from diabetes.
All people with diabetes should use a glucose meter to monitor their blood sugar at home and make sure they stay within their target range. Home monitoring allows people to quickly notice any potentially harmful changes and report problems to a doctor immediately.