The Relationship Between Hyperglycemia and Diabetes

High blood sugar remains a common problem in diabetics

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Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, is a condition that occurs when there is too much glucose in the blood. It is common among people with diabetes and can become a potentially life-threatening situation if it is allowed rise above a critical level.

A normal blood sugar range is between 80 and 120 mg/dl. When it rises above this threshold, a number of common symptoms can develop, including:

  • blurry vision
  • increased thirst or having a dry mouth
  • feeling weak or tired
  • needing to urinate more frequently than usual

If the blood sugar rises above 240 mg/dl, it can lead to a diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious medical condition which can start with fever and abdominal pain and progress to vomiting, confusion, unconsciousness, seizure, and even death.

Causes of Hyperglycemia in Diabetes

High blood sugar in diabetes is most often associated with three things: diet and insulin management. Among the most common causes of hyperglycemia in diabetics:

  • not giving yourself enough insulin
  • failure of your insulin pump
  • eating beyond what is in your meal plan
  • eating too much at one time or just before bedtime 
  • stress, which can produce cortisol and epinephrine and, in turn, glucose
  • illnesses which can also raise stress hormones

Hormone fluctuations can also occur during the course of the day and lead to unexpected rises in blood sugar level.

One such condition, called the Somogyi effect, is characterized by high blood sugar upon waking. This is usually caused by a sudden drop of glucose at night during which the body responds to by overproducing glucose while you sleep. 

Other Complications of Hyperglycemia

In addition to the typical symptoms of hyperglycemia, there are some that are less commonly known which can affect men and women differently.

In men, chronic hyperglycemia can increase the risk of erectile dysfunction by 200 to 300 percent and often occur 10 to 15 years earlier than in men without diabetes. Retrograde ejaculation (where semen enters the bladder rather than exiting the penis) can also occur.

In women, chronic hyperglycemia can increase urinary tract infections, decrease vaginal lubrication (making intercourse difficult), and lessen the sensitivity of the clitoris.

If left untreated, hyperglycemia can result in serious, long-term complications, including:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • nerve damage (neuropathy)
  • kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy) or kidney failure
  • cataracts, retinal damage (diabetic retinopathy), or  blindness
  • bone and joint problems
  • teeth and gum problems
  • bacterial and fungal infections of the skin
  • damaged nerves and poor blood supply to the feet
  • non-healing wounds

Treating Hyperglycemia

The easiest way to treat hyperglycemia is to prevent it. This includes taking the necessary steps to lower your blood sugar, exercising regularly, keeping to your dietary plan, and taking your medications as directed. 

It is also important to monitor your blood as directed by your doctor. In the event of hyperglycemia, you can either make adjustments to your insulin program or supplement with an extra dose of insulin.

Discuss supplementation with your doctor if you are having trouble controlling your blood sugar.

Source

  • American Diabetes Association. "Clinical Practice Recommendations." Diabetes Care. 2015; 38(S1):S33-S48.

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