High blood sugar, called hyperglycemia, is one of the defining characteristics of diabetes. When people are diagnosed with diabetes, it means their blood sugar has been high, usually for a long period of time.
There are two ways high blood sugar can be monitored:
- Self-tests using a glucose meter that measures your blood sugar at a specific moment
- The A1C test performed by your doctor, which shows your average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months
Over time, high blood sugar can lead to serious long-term health problems. The good news is that scientific studies have proven that control of blood sugar may help delay or even prevent diabetes complications – get started by learning more about the signs and causes of high blood sugar and tips to help prevent its development. Click here to test your knowledge about blood sugar.
What happens when you have high blood sugar?
Insulin is a hormone needed for proper control of blood sugar. Specifically, insulin helps move sugar from your blood into most of your body’s cells, where sugar is used for energy. In patients with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin, and/or the insulin that the pancreas makes does not work the way that it should. As a result, sugar in the blood cannot enter most cells and the cells are unable to use this sugar for energy, while the liver makes too much sugar. This in turn, causes blood sugar levels to get too high, which can cause serious long-term health problems.
High blood sugar symptoms
What should I do if I have symptoms?
- If you haven’t already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, see your health care provider for an evaluation
- If you have diabetes and think you are experiencing any symptoms of high blood sugar, test your blood sugar right away
- If you are experiencing episodes of high blood sugar, talk with your diabetes healthcare team about ways to help reduce the risk of future episodes, including regular blood sugar monitoring and making potential adjustments to your meal plan, physical activity and medications, when prescribed
- Click here for more information on what to do if your blood sugar levels are too high
What causes high blood sugar?
- High blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes can be caused by the following:
- Not staying on your prescribed meal plan
- Insufficient physical activity
- Not taking your prescribed medicine
- Stress from any illness, including cold or flu
- Emotional stress, such as family conflicts or school problems
- High blood sugar usually occurs over a period of days
- Over time, your body may make less insulin, which can contribute to high blood sugar. Your treatment plan may need to be adjusted to keep your blood sugar under control. If your blood sugar is high, talk with your diabetes healthcare team about changes to your meal plan and physical activity, and whether adjustments to the medication you take may be necessary. Diabetes is a progressive disease and sometimes changes in medication may be needed to help control your blood sugar. If your doctor decides it is time to change your medication, it may not mean you haven’t tried hard enough – many people need to adjust their treatment plan over time to help them reach their blood sugar goals
Consequences of high blood sugar
- Short-term complications of high blood sugar can affect daily life and may include fatigue, inability to concentrate and blurred vision. In severe cases, high blood sugar can require emergency treatment
- Long-term consequences of untreated diabetes can have devastating health effects and include:
- Heart disease
Adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke than people without diabetes
- Kidney disease
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure
- Nerve and blood vessel damage
More than half of all people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage
People with diabetes are at an increased risk for eye complications that can lead to blindness
- Gum disease
People with diabetes – especially those with poor blood sugar control – are at a higher risk for gum problems
What can I do to control my high blood sugar?
- To help control high blood sugar, it’s important to set goals with your diabetes healthcare team for weight, physical activity, blood sugar levels and A1C level
- Stay as close as you can to your schedule of eating, physical activity, and medication
- Check your blood sugar levels regularly and share your tracking records with your diabetes healthcare team (primary care provider, endocrinologist and diabetes educator)
- Discuss your latest A1C test results with your diabetes healthcare team to determine whether any adjustments to your treatment plan are needed