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Por Lic. Nina Nazor Robles* -

"Hyperglycemia" refers to high blood sugar levels. People don’t generally notice they have hyperglycemia until their blood glucose (sugar) is very high (above 180 mg/dl). This is when symptoms arise such as frequent urination or feeling very thirsty, hungry, and tired.

The problem with hyperglycemia is that it does not produce symptoms until glucose levels are very high, which is why many people have diabetes for years without realizing it. What happens is that glucose levels start to slowly rise above normal levels (which are 110mg/dl after an overnight fast), without people noticing. In fact, a third of all people with diabetes have not been diagnosed because they do not show any symptoms and have not had a check up.

The trouble is that, in the long run, hyperglycemia can seriously affect your health because problems start developing in the large arteries (such as the coronary arteries) and in other areas (such as the kidneys, the retina or the feet). When blood sugar levels are over 180 mg/dl, various metabolic processes are triggered that affect cholesterol levels. These can end up damaging and hardening the artery walls, which affect the ciculatory system. Uncontrolled diabetes is the main cause of non accident-related blindness, kidney failure, and amputations.

The good news is that during the past decade several studies have shown that by keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible, you reduce the risk of these problems arising by up to 75%.

The most frequent causes of hyperglycemia Generally, eating too much, not exercising, and not following prescribed treatments are the causes of hyperglycemia in people with diabetes. Below are other factors that can raise blood sugar levels as well:

  1. Infections, especially urinary tract and respiratory infections, are the main cause of hospitalization among people with diabetes. There is a risk of hyperglycemia involved in any illness, which is why diabetics should test their glucose levels more frequently when they are ill.
  2. Stress causes hyperglycemia. When people go through a hard time at work or at home, or have a lot of worries, their glucose levels rise.

Infections and stress cause hyperglycemia because the body considers itself to be in an emergency situation. It therefore secretes adrenalin, a hormone that prepares the body to fight or flee. It also causes the fuel supply (glucose) in the blood to increase.

It’s very important to measure your blood sugar frequently with a glucose meter: a tool that all diabetics should have at home. Depending on the meter's test results, your health care team should give you recommendations on what to eat, when to exercise, and when to visit your doctor. These results will also help the doctor or dietitian adjust your individually prescribed treatment as needed.

What to do if you get hyperglycemia

  • Drink a lot of liquid to avoid dehydration.
  • Continue taking your medication exactly as instructed.
  • Eat normally. Avoid food that is high in sugar or starch and that might raise your blood glucose level even higher.
  • Avoid doing exercise if your blood sugar is very high. It might raise it further.
  • Measure your glucose level frequently, every two to four hours.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you have type 2 diabetes and your blood sugar is over 300 mg/dl.
  • If you have type 1 diabetes and your blood sugar is above 300 mg/dl, measure the ketones in your urine and take insulin as prescribed by your doctor.

It is always better to be safe than sorry. To keep your blood sugar under control, take your medication or insulin as instructed, stick to your diet, and exercise.

Keep you glucose level as close to normal as possible. It should be around 110 mg/dl in a "fasting" state, or below 140 mg/dl two hours after meals. This will lower the risk of developing chronic complications. It’s not so hard to do. It is more a question of constant discipline and good lifestyle habits than anything else. It is certainly worth trying.


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