Symptoms of High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)

Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) occurs when your body doesn't have enough insulin or can't use insulin properly. High blood sugar is a major cause of diabetes complications.

Early symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • blurry vision
  • fatigue
  • headache

The best way to avoid hyperglycemia is to check your blood sugar often. Treating high blood sugar may involve exercising regularly or making changes to your diet or medication regimen. If left untreated, high blood sugar can turn into a diabetic emergency. Extremely high blood sugar levels can lead to Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) or Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS).

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)
Ketoacidosis (or DKA) occurs when blood sugars become elevated (over 249 mg/dl, or 13.9 mmol/l) over a period of time and the body begins to burn fat for energy, resulting in ketone bodies in the blood or urine (a phenomenon called ketosis). A variety of factors can cause hyperglycemia (high blood glucose), including failure to take medication or insulin, stress, dietary changes without medication adjustments, eating disorders, and illness or injury. This last cause is important, because if illness brings on DKA, it may slip by unnoticed since its symptoms can mimic the flu (aches, vomiting, etc.). In fact, people with type 1 diabetes are often seeking help for the flu-like symptoms of DKA when they first receive their diagnosis.

Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis may include:

  • Fruity (acetone) breath
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dry, warm skin
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Breathing problems
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • In extreme cases, loss of consciousness

DKA is a medical emergency, and requires prompt and immediately treatment. A simple over-the-counter urine dipstick test can check for ketones (i.e., Ketostix); anyone who has blood glucose levels above 240 mg/dl (13.3 mmol/l) should test their urine for ketones. There is also at least one glucose meter on the market that tests blood ketone levels. It's normal to occasionally have trace amounts of ketones in the urine, but you should call your healthcare provider immediately if you experience moderate to heavy ketones. Treatment for DKA involves administering insulin to lower blood glucose levels and restoring fluid balance to the bloodstream with an intravenous (IV) saline drip. Electrolytes may also be given via IV.

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Last Modified Date: March 05, 2014

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by Nicole Purcell
I have a friend, M, who has diabetes and never, ever tests her bloodsugar before she gets behind the wheel. This has always worried me about her. On Wednesday, she had a bad accident after passing out behind the wheel. She hit another car head on. I thank the universe that no one was killed, but she and the driver of the other vehicle were both badly injured. She's got a long healing road ahead of her, as does the woman she hit. I was talking about the...