Hyperglycemia – Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
Hyperglycemia is a term referring to high blood glucose levels – the condition that often leads to a diagnosis of diabetes.
High blood glucose levels are the defining feature of diabetes, but once the disease is diagnosed, hyperglycemia is a signal of poor control over the condition.
Hyperglycemia is defined by certain high levels of blood glucose:1
Fasting levels greater than 7.0 mmol/L (126 mg/dL)
Two-hours postprandial (after a meal) levels greater than 11.0 mmol/L (200 mg/dL).
Chronic hyperglycemia usually leads to the development of diabetic complications.2
Symptoms of Hyperglycemia
Typical signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
Thirst and hunger
Recurrent infections, such as thrush
Frequent urination, particularly at night
Causes of Hyperglycemia
Eating more or exercising less than usual
Insufficient amount of insulin treatment
Illness such as the flu
Psychological and emotional stress
Insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes
The "dawn phenomenon" or "dawn effect" - an early morning hormone surge.
Treatment and prevention of Hyperglycemia
Prevention of hyperglycemia for people with a diabetes diagnosis is a matter of good self-monitoring and management of blood glucose levels, including adherence to insulin regimes if necessary.
For someone who has not been diagnosed with diabetes, symptoms of hyperglycemia need to be reported to a doctor so that they can test for diabetes – other conditions can also lead to hyperglycemia.
Control of high blood sugar is important to prevent complications caused by chronic hyperglycemia. A doctor may need to review the treatment plan for a diabetes patient who becomes hyperglycemic and they may decide to take one of the following actions:
- Raise the insulin dose
- Recommend dietary changes
- Recommend more exercise
- Recommend closer glucose monitoring
Hyperglycemia can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis
It is important to attend to hyperglycemia since it can lead to a dangerous complication known as ketoacidosis.
High levels of glucose in the blood mean that insufficient levels of glucose are available to cells for their energy needs. As a result, the body resorts to breaking down fat so that energy is derived from fatty acids. This breakdown produces ketones, leading to higher acidity of the blood.
Diabetic ketoacidosis requires urgent medical attention and, alongside hyperglycemia and its symptoms, is signaled by:
A fruity smell on the breath
Nausea or vomiting
Drowsiness or confusion
Loss of consciousness
Hospital treatment of ketoacidosis includes the administering of intravenous fluids and insulin.