Diabetes: Preventing High Blood Sugar Emergencies
What is an Actionset?
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) in diabetes occurs when the sugar (glucose) level in the blood rises above normal. For a person who has diabetes, high blood sugar may be caused by not getting insulin, missing your diabetes medicine, eating too much food, skipping exercise, or being ill or stressed.
Unlike low blood sugar, high blood sugar usually develops slowly over hours or days. Blood sugar levels well above your target range may make you feel tired and thirsty. If your blood sugar level stays higher than your target range, your body will adjust to that level. If your blood sugar continues to rise, your kidneys will produce more urine and you can become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include being thirstier than usual and having darker urine than usual. If you become severely dehydrated, you can go into a coma and possibly die. Over time, high blood sugar damages the eyes, heart, kidneys, blood vessels, and nerves.
Unless you fail to notice the symptoms, you usually have time to treat high blood sugar so that you can prevent an emergency. Three things can help you prevent high blood sugar problems:
High blood sugar
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) means that the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood is above your target range. Symptoms of high blood sugar usually develop over a period of hours or days.
You may feel tired and thirsty when your blood sugar is well above your target range. But some people's bodies adjust to a high level. They may not have obvious symptoms of high blood sugar until their levels are very high. So it is important to check your blood sugar often.
What causes high blood sugar?
High blood sugar develops when there is too little insulin or when your body fails to respond properly to the insulin in your blood. High blood sugar emergencies often develop because of some condition that may not be obvious, such as a heart attack, infection, surgery, or pregnancy.
Your blood sugar can rise to an unsafe level when you:
Sometimes, you may have very high blood sugar in the morning. This can be caused by the dawn phenomenon or the Somogyi effect.
Test Your Knowledge
High blood sugar means that the amount of sugar in my blood is above my target range.
Symptoms of high blood sugar include hunger, nervousness, and sweating.
A high blood sugar emergency occurs when the blood sugar level rises high enough to lead to severe dehydration and certain changes in the chemical processes of the body (metabolism).
High blood sugar levels that are somewhat higher than your target range may cause symptoms such as increased thirst and increased urination. If early high blood sugar is not treated, the level may continue to rise very high. This can be a life-threatening situation.
When your blood sugar level rises above 200 mg/dL, your kidneys will eliminate some of the extra sugar through your urine. Along with sugar, the kidneys release large amounts of fluid, which causes increased urination. If your blood sugar level continues to rise and you do not drink enough liquids to replace the lost fluids, you can become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to a high blood sugar emergency.
Both of the following high blood sugar emergencies can become life-threatening:
High blood sugar emergencies often develop because of some condition that may not be obvious, such as a heart attack, infection, surgery, pregnancy, or undiagnosed diabetes.
Test Your Knowledge
I have type 1 diabetes and my body produces little or no insulin. A high blood sugar emergency can occur if my blood sugar level continues to rise above 250 mg/dL.
I have type 2 diabetes. A high blood sugar emergency can occur if my blood sugar level rises very high, such as above 600 mg/dL.
The best way to prevent a high blood sugar emergency is to keep it from developing.
Treat infections early
Untreated infections (such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and skin infections) can increase your risk for a high blood sugar emergency.
Treat high blood sugar early
The best way to prevent high blood sugar emergencies is to treat high blood sugar as soon as you have symptoms or when your blood sugar is significantly above a target range (200 mg/dL or higher).
Drink plenty of liquids
If your blood sugar levels are above your target range, drink extra liquids to replace the fluids lost through your urine. Water and diet drinks are best. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and soda pop and other liquids that contain a lot of sugar.
Test Your Knowledge
Complete the following:
If I have symptoms of mild high blood sugar, I should:
Follow the steps for dealing with high blood sugar.
Take an extra dose of my diabetes medicine.
Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start preventing high blood sugar emergencies effectively.
Talk with your doctor
If you haven't talked with your doctor about checking your blood sugar at home, do this at your next visit. Home blood sugar meters (glucose meters) make checking your blood sugar level at home easy and quick. Using a home blood sugar meter can take the guesswork out of treating high blood sugar levels.
If you would like more information on diabetes and high blood sugar, the following resources are available:
More information about diabetes can be found in these topics:
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