Serious health problems can arise if your blood sugar is too high for too long.
Although high blood sugar levels have become one of the most common health issues, people need to be cautious.
Hyperglycemia is the proper medical term used to describe high blood sugar levels.
Increased blood sugar levels that are out of control for a long time can result in symptoms of varying severity.
These symptoms can manifest in some of the following ways:
- Feeling hungrier than usual
- Feeling thirstier than expected
- Urinating more often
- Numb or tingling feet
- Blurred vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nausea and/or vomiting
What is high blood sugar?
Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, means too much sugar exists in the blood because the body lacks enough insulin. Thus, it is a common problem for people with diabetes.
Diabetes is a condition affecting the body that causes blood sugar levels to rise higher. Typically, when you eat, your body breaks food down into sugar which is carried in the blood to cells for energy. Insulin then helps move the sugar from the blood into your cells. However, in diabetes, insulin is impaired, thus trapping more sugar in the blood.
So high blood sugar levels often affect people with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes and pregnant women with gestational diabetes.
In addition, hyperglycemia can affect people who do not have diabetes but are seriously ill, such as those who have a severe infection, heart attack, or stroke.
It is normal to have temporary spikes in blood sugar after consuming a large meal or experiencing medication side effects. However, chronically elevated blood sugar levels can be dangerous and even lead to a diabetic coma.
Elevated blood sugar levels can be measured using a blood sample then tested in a lab. Testing blood sugar levels at home involves getting a small blood sample by pricking the finger then inserting the sample in portable devices such as a glucometer.
The values from a diabetes blood test determine how severe the high blood sugar could be, in line with the American diabetes association’s recommendations. For example, a person has hyperglycemia when the blood glucose is higher than 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) while not eating for at least eight hours.
However, a high sugar level doesn’t manifest as symptoms until glucose values are significantly elevated, usually above 180 to 200 mg/dL.
Get Your FREE Diabetes Diet Plan
- 15 foods to naturally lower blood sugar levels
- 3 day sample meal plan
- Designed exclusively by our nutritionist
8 complications of chronic high blood sugar
Blood sugar management is crucial for people with diabetes since chronic high blood sugar levels can lead to life-changing and life-threatening complications. In addition, persistent hyperglycemia can affect any part of your body, from your head to your toes.
Long-term complications of untreated hyperglycemia can include:
The side effects of high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and affect the heart. This type of deterioration of blood vessels also affects the coronary arteries, which supply the heart with blood. It can eventually narrow the blood vessel and result in a heart attack.
Similarly, it can affect blood vessels in the brain and result in a stroke. In addition, high blood pressure can worsen the effect of diabetes on blood vessels.
High blood glucose levels can result in nerve damage due to destroying the tiny blood vessels that supply nerves. This damage can affect how nerves transmit sensory feelings and movement signals. It often starts with the hands and feet’ nerves before affecting other body parts such as the chest and stomach.
People with diabetes are at risk of kidney disease as high blood sugar levels destroy the kidney’s blood vessels and ruin the delicate filtration system. This damage levels to diminished kidney function and eventually kidney failure. It can even affect blood pressure.
Note that kidney disease is painless and does not cause symptoms until advanced.
If you have diabetes, your skin is prone to dryness caused by the side effects of high blood sugar. Also, the skin has a poor blood supply and poor circulation, leaving it vulnerable to bacterial infections and fungal infections. These could also contribute to dry, itchy skin.
Other skin problems primarily affect people with diabetes, such as diabetic dermopathy and diabetic blisters.
Damage to the retina’s blood vessels can potentially cause a spectrum of eye diseases like cataracts, blurred vision, and even blindness.
For instance, people with diabetes tend to get glaucoma when the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain becomes damaged. It is caused by fluid build-up in the front part of the eye, which increases pressure inside the eye.
RELATED: Diabetes and Your Eyesight: How To Prevent Vision Loss.
Foot problems arise as a side effect of high blood sugar. Diabetes increases the risk of developing serious foot problems leading to amputation.
In addition, untreated high blood sugar starts to affect the peripheral blood vessel that supplies blood and the nerve supply to your extremities, leaving the person prone to infections and inflammatory processes.
Gum disease and other mouth problems
Gum disease is one of the complications of diabetes that affects many people. This complication occurs because uncontrolled blood sugar levels for an extended period slowly and progressively allow bacteria to grow for an extended period.
The bacteria produce acid, which degrades the gums and bones supporting the teeth. Also, high blood sugar damages blood vessels in the gum, reducing their oxygen supply and ability to heal.
RELATED: Diabetes And Oral Care: A Guide To a Healthy Mouth.
Erectile dysfunction is a known problem that often affects men who have diabetes. This is when a man cannot get or keep an erection during sexual intercourse. It may result from reduced blood flow, damaged blood vessels, and damaged nerves.
How to control blood sugar at home
Controlling blood sugar at home involves making lifestyle changes. First, however, routine blood sugar monitoring with a blood glucose meter can help you keep track of any side effects of high blood sugar.
In addition, it ensures that your treatment plan is controlling your blood sugar within the acceptable range. So check your blood sugar as often as your doctor recommends.
Also, exercise and diet are crucial to maintaining a good blood glucose level. Exercise and increased activities such as walking and yoga help reduce blood sugar since it activates muscles to use up the excess sugar. It also helps you retain a moderate weight that will sustain blood sugar control.
In terms of diet, it is best to eat more soluble dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables rather than sugary foods and foods high in carbohydrates. Drinking lots of water is also essential to prevent dehydration.
When high blood sugar is an emergency
It’s vital to treat the side effects of high blood sugar. Untreated hyperglycemia can lead to severe complications requiring emergency care. It can lead to the following severe conditions.
This occurs when your body is unable to produce enough insulin. Thus, blood sugar level rises, but your body can not use the sugar for energy, so it has to resort to using fat.
Breakdown of fats can lead to the production of toxic acids known as ketones. These extra ketones can accumulate and result in symptoms like nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, fruity-scented breath, and confusion.
It is possible to check if ketones are in the blood by getting an over-the-counter test kit. This is an emergency, so seek medical attention immediately.
Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar state
This condition occurs despite insulin production. Blood glucose levels build up because the insulin produced is dysfunctional so the body. If the situation is not treated, it can result in a life-threatening coma. Therefore get medical assistance immediately. Some of the symptoms are hallucinations, vision loss, convulsions, fever, drowsiness, and confusion.
Emergency treatment can revert your blood sugar to normal ranges. Treatment usually includes insulin therapy, fluids, and electrolyte replacement intravenously.
As noted above, chronic high blood sugar can be dangerous if left untreated since it can lead to many severe complications. However, it can be controlled by constant monitoring and practical lifestyle changes like having a healthier diet and regularly exercising.