Diabetes and hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia happens when the blood glucose (blood sugar) becomes significantly increased, because the insulin is unable to help the cells to convert sugar into energy.

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A normal level of blood glucose in a type 1 diabetes patient usually moves between 5-7.8 mmol/L throughout the day and it usually hits a high after a meal, which is why you should always adjust your insulin treatment according to your eating habits. It can be difficult to know if you are experiencing hyperglycemia though, since the symptoms tend to appear over the cause of days or weeks.

What happens if I get hyperglycemia?

The symptoms of hyperglycemia are not very visible. If you only experience one symptom, it can be quite difficult to notice, since there may be other reasons for the symptom. The most common symptoms are increased thirst, dry mouth, increased frequency in urination (especially at night), tiredness and recurrent infections (such as thrush). Also headaches, weight loss and blurred vision might appear as later symptoms.

If the hyperglycemia goes unnoticed, it may evolve into a very serious and life-threatening complication of hyperglycemia, known as diabetic ketoacidosis, which may cause coma or death if not treated in time.

There can be many reasons for experiencing hyperglycemia when having diabetes. There are certain things that can trigger an increase in blood glucose levels, for instance stress, missing a dose of insulin, eating too much (or eating the wrong things) and being ill.

When you eat, the body transforms the food into glucose. If you don't take enough insulin before your meal, the body will not be able to transform the newly produced glucose to energy. This leads to significantly increased blood glucose levels and if the blood sugar raises above the level of 9 mmol/L, you have an increased risk of getting hyperglycemia.

If you experience hyperglycemia it is necessary to take some steps in order to lower your blood glucose levels. These could include increasing your dose of insulin temporarily, making some changes to your diet or exercising. Always discuss the options with your care team, since there may be invisible symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis in play.

The chances of getting hyperglycemia can be significantly reduced if you learn to manage your blood glucose levels through blood testing, your eating habits, workouts and the timing of your insulin doses.

Sources:
- Diabetes UK
- NHS

Last updated: 06/05/2019

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