Diabetes affects over 34 million people in the United States—a condition that usually requires continuous blood sugar monitoring, careful consideration of each meal, and being prepared for unexpected blood sugar drops or spikes.
Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, blood glucose levels must be controlled in order for your body to function optimally. If they fall too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia) and are not treated immediately, the consequences can be severe.
High blood sugar causes?
To help manage hyperglycemia more effectively, it’s beneficial to be aware of potential triggers.
“Probably the first thing most people think about is food–in particular, carbohydrates—and I would say even more specifically, simple carbohydrates would be the most likely culprit,” explains Dr Beatrice Hong.
Foods with a high glycemic index (meaning they are rapidly converted to sugar in the body, resulting in a blood sugar spike) include white bread, potatoes, and rice.
Apart from that, a common cause of an increase in blood sugar is a missed insulin dose, but this is not always the case.
Does stress or hormone fluctuations play a role?
“Yes, absolutely, stress can certainly cause a rise in blood sugars,” according to Dr Hong.
“In regards to hormonal fluctuations, some female patients with type 1 diabetes will experience differences in their blood glucoses depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle but this effect is not often seen in patients with type 2 diabetes.”
How do you know your blood sugar is high?
If you do not have access to a glucometer (a small device that measures the amount of glucose in a drop of blood), there are some physical symptoms that indicate high blood glucose.
“Usually if blood sugar is very high, the kidney is trying to eliminate all that sugar and in order to eliminate all that sugar, we need water to get rid of things,” says Dr Wright.
“That causes increased urination.”
Additionally, you may experience thirst as your body becomes more dehydrated as a result of the fluid loss.
“Other patients, they describe that they might feel dizzy or sometimes they feel like their hands are tingly and that’s when they know that the blood sugars are high,” adds Dr Wright.
Unfortunately, because diabetes affects nearly every part of the body, symptoms vary significantly.
“Other signs could be fatigue, just really not having the energy that you would expect you should have at that time,” says Dr Hong.
“And then more severely, things like nausea and vomiting or even abdominal pain can be signs of hyperglycemia.”
These are all acute issues, but if blood sugars remain elevated for an extended period of time, particularly in patients newly diagnosed with diabetes or those who are unaware they have it, Dr Wright notes that patients may experience blurred vision or unexplained weight loss.
“It is very important to check blood sugar regularly, because by the time patients have symptoms like that, then blood sugar is already really, really high,” she says.
“Ideally we don’t really want to get to that point.”
Most often, glucose levels remain elevated and cause internal damage to tissues without causing obvious outward symptoms.
4 Quick and Safe Ways to Lower Blood Sugar
To begin, if you’ve missed an insulin dose or your pump isn’t working properly, Dr Wright recommends addressing the underlying issue.
Insulin is a normal hormone produced by the pancreas, and what it does is acting as a shuttle, transporting glucose from the bloodstream to the cells where it can be used as fuel, Dr Hong explains.
“So, for somebody with diabetes, if they have high blood glucoses, by giving themself more insulin they’re essentially helping to facilitate the movement of glucose into the cells so that the blood glucose levels drop and the cells receive more fuel or glucose.”
“I don’t generally recommend that you take it on an as-needed basis,” says Dr. Hong.
“Typically, diabetes medications are meant to be taken on a daily basis or in a scheduled way.”
“If you forget to take your medication, then absolutely, your blood sugars can go up, and then if you take it again, the sugars will certainly come back down,” says Dr Hong.
But keep in mind that meds (such as Metformin) do not work as quickly as insulin, particularly if it has been a while since your last dose or if you have not been taking it as frequently as you should.
While you get your insulin and/or medication on track, you also need to focus on hydration. “Don’t drink juice,” says Dr. Wright.
“Drink water and hydrate aggressively.”
This is because dehydration is a significant contributor to diabetic ketoacidosis.
When your blood sugars are elevated, your body is desperate to eliminate [the excess sugar], and so it dumps it into your urine, along with a lot of water, in an attempt to flush it out of your system, Dr Hong explains.
“So people who have high blood sugars are generally always dehydrated and drinking a lot of water actually helps you flush the system and also helps dilute the amount of blood glucose in the blood.”
Take a walk
If you have insulin in your system and are not experiencing nausea, take a walk around the neighbourhood.
“Any type of aerobic exercise can absolutely help with your blood glucoses,” says Dr. Hong.
In fact, she points out, “there are several studies out there that demonstrate that taking a moderate intense walk for about 20 minutes after a meal can decrease your blood glucoses by 20 to 30% easily. The way that works is that you’re actually having your muscles use more fuel and their fuel is glucose.”
As a result? There is less glucose remaining in your bloodstream. However, it’s critical to remember that exercise is beneficial only if you have insulin in your system.
“It would be a terrible idea for someone who is almost in diabetic ketoacidosis to go for a walk and not use insulin,” says Dr Wright.
However, if you have insulin and are not feeling ill, a walk should assist in lowering your blood sugar.
When to look out for help
“I would say that anybody with type 1 diabetes, first of all, they should always carry ketone sticks with them,” says Dr Hong.
“So, if blood sugars were to run high or they were to feel sickly, they should test their urine for ketones and if that is positive, they should seek care from a doctor or an emergency room.”
She advises anyone (whether they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes) to seek care if they are extremely ill, nauseated, vomiting, experiencing severe abdominal pain, experiencing confusion, or having difficulty thinking clearly.
“And then, if they are checking blood glucoses and they notice that their sugars are running significantly higher than what they’re used to and it’s not responding to any of their usual care such as drinking water or taking their insulin, they should absolutely seek care and speak to the doctor as well,” Dr Hong adds.
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