Hyperglycemia and How to Treat It


What is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, occurs when glucose is trapped in the bloodstream due to lack of insulin. The opposite of hyperglycemia is hypoglycemia.

Individual blood glucose ranges vary, so talk with your diabetes team about your threshold for high blood glucose levels. A reading above 160 mg/dL (8.9 mmol/L) indicates hyperglycemia according to the Joslin Diabetes Center, although symptoms may not be present until blood sugar levels reach 200 mg/dL or 11 mmol/L.

If left untreated, hyperglycemia may lead to severe dehydration, diabetic ketoacidosis, and coma. The effects of tong-term hyperglycemia include damage to the eyes, kidneys, nervous system and heart.

Why Does It Occur?

Taking too little insulin, under-counting carbohydrates at mealtimes, stress, not exercising as much as planned, fluctuating hormones and illness can all contribute to hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia can occur when when your body is under physical stress, like when you’re fighting an infection or other illness, if you’re recovering from an injury, or recently had surgery. Emotional stress also contributes to hyperglycemia as hormones produced in response to stress cause blood glucose levels to rise. It can also occur when insulin has expired or if its effectiveness has been reduced due to exposure to extreme heat or cold. Store your insulin within appropriate temperature ranges to maintain its effectiveness.

Initial signs and symptoms of Hyperglycemia

  • Unquenchable thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Recurring infections
  • Slow-healing cuts or sores

Advanced symptoms of Hyperglycemia

  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Exhaustion
  • Coma

How Do I Treat Hyperglycemia?

Check your blood sugar and see if it is above your target level. You should remember target levels can be different in each person. If your blood glucose is above your upper target level,  try to lower with exercise. Call your health care team if your blood sugar is abnormally high and you cannot identify the cause(s).

Along with a “sick day” plan, make a plan with your doctor about when you should seek medical assistance or when to take extra units of insulin. Ask questions about the best way to treat hyperglycemia for you, what to do if you’re unable to keep food or liquids down, and the best way for preventing instances of it.