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Hyperglycemia: Symptoms, causes and treatment

  • Hyperglycemia is when blood sugar levels are 130 mg / dL before a meal or 180 mg / dL two hours after a meal.
  • Signs and symptoms of hyperglycaemia include increased thirst, more frequent urination and blurred vision.
  • Hyperglycemia occurs mostly in people with diabetes, although it can also occur as a result of stress or steroid medications.
  • This article was reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, family physician and clinical assistant at Texas A&M Medical College.
  • Visit the Insider’s Health reference library for more tips.

Hyperglycemia is when you have high blood sugar. Before meals or when you have not eaten for several hours, high blood sugar is defined as 1

30 mg / dL. Two hours after a meal, hyperglycemia is when blood sugar levels are above 180 mg / dL.

By comparison, normal blood sugar levels are usually between 80 mg / dL and 130 mg / dL. Hyperglycemia is most common in people with diabetes and essentially describes the high blood sugars that determine the chronic condition.

In some cases, hyperglycaemia may also occur as a result of stress or as a side effect of a steroid medication. Here’s how you can recognize the signs of high blood sugar and lower it quickly.

Signs and symptoms

The most common symptoms of hyperglycaemia include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Drink fluids more often
  • Urination more often
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight loss

However, the only way to know for sure if you have hyperglycemia is by taking blood, says Dr. Jordan Mesler, a physician at the Morton Plant Hospitalist group in Clearwater, Florida. This may confirm that your blood sugar levels are elevated and by how much. In fact, the symptoms will often not become severe until the blood sugar rises above 200 mg / dL.

If left untreated, hyperglycemia can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) within 24 hours in some cases. This condition, most commonly in people with type 1 diabetes, occurs when the body is unable to break down sugar properly for fuel, so it breaks down fat instead, says Mesler. This naturally releases acids into the blood and because the body cannot wash the acid fast enough, it becomes toxic in the blood.

DKA is an emergency medical service and people with the following symptoms should visit the emergency department, especially if they have diabetes, says Messler:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach ache


Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause hyperglycemia. But there are other potential causes, such as stress or steroid medications.


People with diabetes are unable to process blood sugar effectively, either because they do not produce insulin, the hormone that breaks down blood sugar (type 1), or because their body does not use insulin effectively (type 2).

Because the body cannot break down blood sugar, it builds up in the blood and is more likely to cause high blood glucose levels or hyperglycaemia.

Hyperglycemia can also occur from time to time in people being treated for diabetes. These spikes in blood sugar levels can be caused by:

  • He eats too much
  • Not exercising enough
  • You are giving yourself too little insulin or medicine
  • The phenomenon of dawn or a surge of hormones in the early morning, which can raise blood sugar
  • Stress or illness


Even people without diabetes can get hyperglycemia. For example, stress can cause insulin resistance – a condition in which your body does not use insulin effectively.

At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol promotes the release of hepatic glucose or glucose stored in the liver, which further raises blood sugar. This so-called “stress hyperglycemia” can occur during acute medical situations, such as infection or heart attack, says Mesler.


Steroids, such as prednisone and methylprednisolone, can also cause hyperglycemia in up to 46% of patients without diabetes, but this usually goes away when the drug is stopped.

Like the effects of stress, these drugs also increase the release of hepatic glucose and increase insulin resistance and can cause hyperglycaemia, even if you do not have diabetes.


The goal of treatment for hyperglycemia is to lower blood sugar. For people with diabetes, this may mean adjusting your insulin dose or following a plan that you and your doctor have set up in advance when you have hyperglycaemia.

People who have chronic hyperglycemia caused by diabetes should also work to lower their blood sugar over time, in addition to treating individual episodes of hyperglycemia.

“The best way to start lowering your blood sugar for someone with diabetes is through lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise,” says Mesler.

People with type 1 diabetes will need insulin to lower their blood sugar, while type 2 diabetics are often treated with oral medications such as metformin and possibly insulin, Mesler said.

However, for people with stress or steroid-induced hyperglycemia, the condition usually resolves on its own as soon as the stress subsides or about four to six hours after stopping treatment.

If hyperglycemia persists after coping with the underlying health condition, the patient may be diagnosed with diabetes, Mesler said.


Hyperglycemia is a serious condition, especially if left untreated. As it can only be diagnosed by measuring your blood sugar, it is important to talk to your doctor if you are worried about hyperglycaemia.

“If you suffer from symptoms of increased thirst and frequent urination with weight loss, then you should discuss with your doctor and check your blood sugar,” says Mesler.

He also recommends that people who have risk factors for diabetes – including being overweight, have a family history of diabetes or are over 45 – check their blood sugar levels regularly.

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