10 Signs And Symptoms Of High Blood Sugar To Be Aware Of

Blood sugar is our source of energy, and we need it to function, but in some people, it can reach excessive levels.

High blood sugar is a major problem. It could increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage. Hyperglycemia increases glycation. This leads to the production of harmful particles. These particles impair the functions of glycated substances.

A chain of reactions takes place. It leads to problems with blood flow, inflammation, slow wound healing. Keeping blood sugar levels in check is vital for good health and diabetes prevention.

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What Are High Blood Sugar Levels?

It is essential to address glucose levels in general. In persons without type 1 or type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels generally range between 70 to 130 mg/dl.

It depends on the last time they ate a meal and the time of day. Normal blood glucose ranges in persons without any type of diabetes are:

  • Fasting blood sugar in the morning before eating – 70 to 90 mg/dl 

  • One hour after a meal – 90 to 130 mg/dl

  • Two hours after a meal – 90 to 110 mg/dl

  • Five or more hours after eating – 70 to 90 mg/dl

In pregnant women, blood sugar levels tend to be lower. Harvard Health also confirms that a normal blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dl after an eight-hour fast. Also, a person has diabetes if their blood sugar is 126 mg/dl or higher.

When it comes to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar, there are two kinds of the problem. The first kind is fasting hyperglycemia, which is blood sugar higher than 130 mg/dl after not eating or drinking for eight hours.

The other kind is postprandial or after-meal hyperglycemia, where blood sugar is higher than 180 mg/dl two hours after a meal. People without diabetes rarely have blood sugar higher than 140 mg/dl after a meal unless it’s a big one.

Why Is High Blood Sugar So Dangerous?

We know that hyperglycemia can cause cardiovascular problems and many others, but have you ever wondered why? Studies point to inflammation and other mechanisms of action mentioned above, but we also need to address glycation. 

Glycation is defined as a natural process wherein the sugar in a person’s bloodstream attaches to proteins and forms harmful new molecules named advanced glycation end products.

Besides proteins, glycation can involve lipids too. What is going on here? You see, the production of advanced glycation end products due to increased glycation are engulfed by macrophages and taken to the arterial wall where they contribute to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Higher glycation occurs with elevated blood sugar concentration, which can explain why hyperglycemia can cause problems such as heart attack and stroke. At the same time, glycated particles such as LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or bad type of cholesterol are more susceptible to oxidation. As a result, oxidized LDL induces the atherosclerosis process.

What makes excess glycation so harmful? Well, glycated particles aren’t able to perform their functions adequately anymore. This also leads to apoptosis or cell death eventually.

Conversion of certain particles to advanced glycation end products aggravates hyperglycemia and oxidative-stress related diseases, including kidney problems, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and others. Besides LDL, glycation can also affect HDL and reduce its capacity. This process can affect collagen, adipocytes, endothelial cells, insulin, hemoglobin, serum albumin, and many other particles.

Evidence shows that hyperglycemia increases intestinal lipoproteins and reduces HDL, which could be a consequence of hyperglycemia-induced glycation of lipoproteins, which decreases the uptake of lipoproteins due to classical LDL receptor.

In addition, hyperglycemia inhibits lipoprotein lipase, which leads to hyperlipidemia. High blood sugar also enhances the formation of both glycated and oxidized LDL.

Despite the fact that advanced glycation end products-related LDL modification is more accentuated in hyperglycemic patients, LDL oxidation is more of a universal event. It also occurs in persons who don’t have high blood sugar levels.

In other words, high blood sugar leads to an increase in the process of glycation and leads to the production of potentially harmful particles. These particles affect blood flow and impair LDL functionality, HDL, and other proteins and lipids in our bodies. This causes a chain of reactions that lead to cardiovascular diseases, heart attack, stroke, but also induces nerve damage and slows down wound healing.

Your heart and all organs in your body need proper blood flow to function properly. The same goes for wounds. When glycation takes place and impairs functions of LDL, HDL, insulin, and other particles, they are unable to do their job and keep you healthy.

Glycated plasma proteins also trigger pro-inflammatory responses and prosclerotic cytokines, which lead to the development and progression of diabetic complications.

Signs Of High Blood Sugar

It’s natural for blood sugar levels to go up and down, but when excessive levels occur frequently, they can lead to various problems that could jeopardize a person’s quality of life.

Below we break down some of the most serious complications associated with excess blood sugar.

1) Increased risk of cardiovascular events

Cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke are common and affect millions of people around the globe. According to the CDC, every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of the total number of heart attacks, about 525,000 are a first cardiovascular event of this kind while 210,000 occur in people who have already had a heart attack.

On the other hand, stroke is the third leading cause of death in the US. About 140,000 die each year due to stroke. Every year, around 795,000 people suffer a stroke, and nearly three-quarters happen in people older than 65.

Risk factors that lead to cardiovascular problems are numerous, and high blood sugar is one of them. Although evidence on this subject is still relatively scarce, preliminary findings do show that hyperglycemia is an important prognostic factor in acute heart failure.

Studies show that hyperglycemia could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke due to the fact that glucose fluctuations are triggers for inflammatory responses through enhanced mitochondrial superoxide production.

The biggest problem here is that an inflammatory response induced by one short-term episode of hyperglycemia may last for several days. As if the problem isn’t severe enough, inflammation leads to insulin resistance, which only worsens hyperglycemia. Basically, a vicious circle is created. 

Studies reveal that hyperglycemia can increase stroke occurrence and exacerbate the outcome through various mechanisms of action, including the generation of free radicals, inflammation, mitochondrial function, modulating acidosis, and others.

2) Microvascular damage of eyes, kidneys, toes, etc.

Microvascular damage is defined as damage to small blood vessels, and it’s a common consequence of high blood sugar. Evidence confirms that acute hyperglycemia causes microvascular damage and leads to poor functional recovery, especially in patients who have sustained myocardial infarction. 

For example, numbers show that more than 661,000 Americans have kidney failure, but high blood pressure and diabetes are the most common risk factors for this serious health problem. Almost half of the patients with chronic kidney disease have diabetes. This isn’t such a surprise if we bear in mind that poor glycemic control is associated with microvascular disease development. 

High blood sugar damages nerves and interferes with their ability to send signals, which causes diabetic neuropathy. Damage of this kind usually affects eyes, kidneys, toes, and other parts of a patient’s body.

3) Slow wound healing

Getting injured is nothing uncommon. Wounds heal quite quickly, and everything’s fine. But that’s not the case with hyperglycemia. Persons with high blood sugar may experience wound healing difficulties, i.e., the process tends to be slow. That happens because an increased amount of blood sugar in the blood makes cell walls rigid and stiff, which impairs blood flow in the small vessels. Wounds need adequate blood flow to heal properly.

5) Fatigue

Fatigue is a prevalent symptom. Insulin resistance makes it harder for cells in the body to utilize glucose. This is why blood glucose levels rise. The cells cannot effectively take the glucose out of the blood and convert it into energy. The result is fatigue and a feeling of weakness. A lack of energy will also develop. This is due to a reduced conversion of glucose into energy. 

6) Frequent Urination

Another symptom is an increase in urination frequency. As glucose starts to build up in the bloodstream, it puts pressure on the kidneys. The kidneys focus on getting the extra glucose out of the bloodstream. A high level of glucose means the kidneys may not be able to effectively adjust the patient’s blood sugar levels. In turn, these organs will turn to flush out the excess glucose. This effect causes an increase in urination. 

7) Blurred Vision

A high blood glucose level can also cause the lenses of the eyes to become swollen. The swelling happens when fluid leaks into the eye. In some patients, the shape of the lens can even be changed. When this happens, there may be a blurry vision

8) Nausea and Vomiting

Some patients also complain about nausea. There are cases where uncontrolled blood sugar levels also lead to vomiting in some patients. 

8) Recurrent Infections

Yeast infections in the genital area are also more common in patients with high blood sugar levels. The high blood sugar creates an environment for Candida albicans to overgrow. This leads to a yeast infection. It causes soreness, pain, itching, and other symptoms in the genital area. 

9) Dental Issues

Glucose is naturally found in saliva. With high blood sugar, there is excess glucose in the patient’s saliva. This leads to an overgrowth of bacteria. The result is generally inflammation in the gums, as well as redness. Dental infection can develop, leading to ulcers, tooth loss, and more. 

10) Tingling Hands and Feet

Nerve damage is typical in people with high blood sugar. This can lead to a tingling sensation in both the hands and the feet. Pain is sometimes also experienced in these extremities. 

Other complications

While cardiovascular events, problems with eyes, kidneys, and slow wound healing are severe complications of hyperglycemia, they’re not the only ones. Below, you can see some other consequences of high blood sugar:

  • Stomach pain

  • Weight loss

  • Headache

  • Vaginal and skin infections

  • Loss of hair in lower extremities

  • Erectile dysfunction

How To Effectively Manage High Blood Sugar

While diabetes is a dangerous disease, it is often possible to manage it. No cures are available, but treatments help to control blood sugar levels.

Recognizing the symptoms of high blood sugar is critical. When blood glucose levels are high, a person must take appropriate action. This is the case with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes

The patient should start by discussing the high blood sugar level with their doctor. The doctor will be able to perform a few tests. This gives the doctor a better view of the patient’s diabetes.

It also helps the doctor determine what type of diabetes the patient has. This may be type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes in some cases. Patients also need to be aware that insulin resistance can develop into diabetes. Thus, if the patient is insulin resistant, they need to take action. 

There is a medication that can help. Some drugs help to ensure there is enough insulin in the body. Others rather have a direct effect on blood sugar levels. This can help to reduce the risk of a blood sugar spike. Failure to manage high blood sugar levels can lead to dangerous problems, such as diabetic coma. 

A healthy diet is also critical for a person with diabetes. Carbohydrate counting is important, and the person should learn what an appropriate portion size is for them. Meals should be balanced. This avoids low blood sugar levels and a spike in blood glucose. It is also important that medication is generally taken with food. 

Exercise should also form part of the patient’s management plan. Exercise is a great way to manage diabetes. It ensures carbohydrates obtained from food is converted into energy and not stored as excess sugar. 

It is vital that a person does not use too much alcohol if they are diabetic. Avoiding sugary drinks can also be a helpful strategy. 

Conclusion

Blood sugar is our source of energy, and we need it to function properly, but in some people, it can reach excessive levels.

High blood sugar is a major problem that could potentially increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and many other health problems.

These things happen because hyperglycemia increases glycation, leading to the production of harmful particles that impair glycated substances’ functions. As a result, a chain of reactions occurs, a domino effect that leads to problems with blood flow, inflammation, and slow wound healing. Keeping blood sugar levels in check is vital for good health and diabetes prevention.

Sources

  1. Methods in Enzymology. (2011) Inhibitors of Advanced Glycation and Endoplasmic reticulum stress. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123859280000201
  2. Journal of Angiology. (2005) Hyperglycemia, lipoprotein glycation, and vascular disease. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16079928
  3. Journal of Diabetes. (2011) Level of oxidized LDL and advanced glycation end products-modified LDL in circulating immune complexes are strongly associated with increased levels of carotid intima-media thickness and its progression in type 1 diabetes. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3028359/
  4. Mayo Clinic. Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affects blood sugar. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-management/art-20047963
Alternative Text

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Founder of ZayedMD, Dr. Ahmed believes in making the knowledge as accessible as possible to patients. He had his work featured in reputable publications such as The Huffington Post. Other than his passion for writing, Dr. Ahmed spends​ his time outside the hospital at the gym or with a good book.

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