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Hyperglycemia can lead to life-threatening complications of diabetes. Learn how to spot high blood sugar ? and what to do about it.

You have diabetes. You're taking your medication and checking your blood sugar. But your mouth feels dry and you've been thirsty all day. When you check your blood sugar you discover it's a lot higher than your target range. This is known as hyperglycemia. It's serious ? but you can take immediate steps to treat it.

Why blood sugar rises

Your diabetes treatment plan is designed to help you avoid hyperglycemia. But everyone has occasional episodes of high blood sugar. The most common culprits include:

-Eating too much
-Exercising less than you planned to
-Physical stress, such as a cold, infection or the flu
-Emotional stress, such as family conflict or workplace challenges
-Forgetting to take your insulin or oral medications
-Problems with your insulin, such as not giving yourself enough insulin or using a bottle of insulin that's gone bad

What to watch out for

Paying attention to the early signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia can help you treat the condition promptly. Watch for:

-Frequent urination
-Increased thirst
-Dry mouth
-Blurred vision

Long periods of hyperglycemia can damage your nerves, blood vessels and various organs. Left untreated, high blood sugar may turn into diabetic ketoacidosis or diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome ? both life-threatening conditions.

What to do

If you have any signs or symptoms of hyperglycemia ? even if they're subtle ? check your blood sugar. If your blood sugar is higher than normal, use a home testing kit to check your urine for ketones. If the urine test is positive, your body may have started making the changes that can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. You'll need your doctor's help to safely lower your blood sugar.

If there are no ketones in your urine, you may be able to treat hyperglycemia on your own.

-Take your medication as directed. If you have frequent episodes of hyperglycemia, your doctor may adjust the dosage or timing of your medication.

-Get physical. Exercise is often an effective way to lower blood sugar. But there's a caveat. If you have ketones in your urine, exercise can drive your blood sugar even higher.

-Eat at less. Sometimes it helps to eat less and avoid sugary beverages. If you're having trouble sticking to your meal plan, contact your doctor or dietitian for help.

Responding to changes in blood sugar can help you prevent long-term complications of diabetes. Work with your doctor to make sure your diabetes treatment plan is meeting your needs.
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