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If you or a loved one has diabetes you probably already know that a sudden spike in blood sugar level is called hyperglycaemia. Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is at risk of experiencing hyperglycaemia, which is why they should take special care to get their blood sugar tested regularly (as they will need to take immediate action to rectify a high reading).
While a couple of high readings on your blood glucose metre don’t necessarily indicate a serious problem, a prolonged high reading should give cause for concern, as hyperglycaemia has been associated with some very serious complications. Fortunately, by keeping a strict watch on their blood sugar levels, most people with diabetes are able to avoid the majority of these complications.
During hyperglycaemia, people with diabetes tend to get hungrier and thirstier than usual, with their mouth continuing to feel dry no matter how much they drink. Other symptoms include: frequent urination, blurry vision, tiredness and lethargy and weight loss (despite the fact that they are eating as much or more than usual). The symptoms of hyperglycaemia generally only become obvious after several days of significantly high blood sugar levels (i.e. over 200 mg/dl). As time goes on, the symptoms become more and more pronounced.Interestingly, people who have had type 2 diabetes for a number of years often find they don’t notice any physical changes during hyperglycaemia.
Hyperglycaemia can be caused by a variety of situations. If the diabetes can usually be controlled with very little effort, the most likely cause of hyperglycaemia is an infection. When your body is invaded by pathogenic agents it responds by producing molecules to fight them off. This triggers a rise in blood sugar levels, which, in turn, leads to hyperglycaemia.
Hyperglycaemia can also be brought on by hormonal changes that take place when the person is exposed to stressful situations. Cortisol (the anti-stress hormone), is involved in the secretion of insulin. So, a lot of medications containing this particular molecule, such as the corticoid-based topical creams that are used to treat the pain associated with arthritis, can also cause a person’s blood sugar levels to rise.
And last but not least, hyperglycaemia can also be brought on by changes to a person’s eating habits or exercise regime. When a person with diabetes consumes food or drink with a high glycaemic load (i.e. with a high sugar or carb content) like cakes, pastries, ice-cream or sugary drinks, their blood sugar level will rise.
Blood sugar levels also tend to rise when you aren’t getting enough exercise(or when you aren’t doing as much as you usually do). That being said, hyperglycaemia can also be triggered by too much high-intensity exercise. Especially if you’re exercising when your blood sugar levels are high and your insulin levels low – like after a meal, for example.
How do I control hyperglycaemia?
The best way to avoid the complications associated with hyperglycaemia is to get your blood sugar levels tested regularly. As you no doubt already know, the ideal blood sugar level is between 80 and 120 mg/dl before meals and below 180 mg/dl after meals.
If you notice several high readings in a row, the best thing to do is to cut back on how much you eat. As a general rule, exercise will help you get occasional spikes back under control. However, exercise is contraindicated whenever the reading is above 240 mg/dl.
A reading of 240 mg/dl or above could well be a sign that your body has gone into ketosis. In other words, your body is unable to access the glucose and so has started metabolising body fat instead. To check for ketosis, you will need to take a ketone test to see whether or not there are ketones in your urine. If the results come back positive you should avoid all physical activity and go to your nearest A&E immediately. When left untreated there is the risk the hyperglycaemia will lead to diabetic ketoacidosis – a potentially life-threatening complication.
When amending your eating habits and exercise regime is not enough to bring the hyperglycaemia under control, your doctor will likely recommend modifying how much insulin or diabetes medication you are taking, as well as when you take it.
Remember, you should never make any adjustments to your treatment without first consulting with your doctor. Doing so could put your health at considerable risk. One thing you can change on your own however, is your attitude – as long as you take a responsible approach to managing your illness there’s no reason it should hold you back.
Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist
Last Modification: January 17, 2017
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