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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Hyperglycaemia (Hypers)

Hyperglycaemia, or a hyper, can happen when your blood glucose (sugar) levels are too high – usually above 7mmol/l before a meal and above 8.5mmol/l two hours after a meal.

This happens because the body either cannot produce enough insulin to process the sugar in the blood or it cannot use the insulin effectively enough.

What causes hyperglycaemia?

There are several reasons why your blood sugar levels may be too high. It may be that:

  • you have missed a dose of your medication
  • you have eaten more carbohydrates than either your body or medication, or both, can cope with
  • you're stressed
  • you're unwell from an infection
  • you have over-treated a hypo
  • your body is reacting to something you may not be aware of.

Overeating and a not moving enough can also lead to high levels of blood sugar. Maintaining high levels of blood sugar makes it even more difficult for your body to produce the insulin needed to process it.

Signs and symptoms of hyperglycaemia

When your blood sugar levels are slightly higher than normal, you will not usually experience any symptoms. But as they rise, symptoms may include:

  • passing more urine than normal, especially at night
  • being very thirsty
  • tiredness and lethargy
  • thrush or other recurring bladder and skin infections
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • weight loss
  • feeling sick.

Symptoms of hyperglycaemia build up slowly over time as your sugar levels rise, meaning you may not notice them until your blood glucose is very high, at which point you should take action straight away to reduce your blood sugar levels.

How to prevent hyperglycaemia and lower your blood sugar levels

Testing your blood sugar levels regularly can help you spot the signs of hyperglycaemia. But there are some steps you can take to either prevent a hyper from happening or to bring down your blood sugar levels.

You can start by making sure you are aware of your carbohydrate portions and how they may be affecting your blood sugar levels after eating. Carb counting is one of the ways you can manage this. Avoid foods that have a high glycemic index (GI) and choose low GI foods that can help manage your blood sugar levels more effectively. Increase the fibre in your diet. This can help slow down carbohydrate digestion, which can help limit the rise in your blood sugars.

Try to maintain a healthy weight as this promotes regular blood sugar levels in the body. Be as active as possible, regular exercise can help your body process more of the sugar.

Remember to take your insulin and other diabetes medication, and always take them correctly. Continue to take your diabetes medication even if you are ill and not eating.

Concentrate on your emotional wellbeing, get a quality night’s sleep and find ways to manage your stress. Stress can cause hormones to be released, which keep your blood sugar levels high.

If your blood sugar levels continue to be high, or you’re unsure of what to do, contact your doctor for further guidance.

Can drinking a lot of water lower your blood sugar levels?

Although feeling very thirsty is a symptom of a hyper, drinking a lot of water will not bring your blood sugar levels down. It will only help to reduce your risk of dehydration.

It’s important that you take your diabetes medication to bring your blood sugar levels down. If you have consistently high blood sugar levels, you will need to follow the advice below and speak to your diabetes healthcare team.

Treating and managing hyperglycaemia

If your blood sugar level is slightly high for a short time, emergency treatment won’t be necessary. But if it continues to rise you may need to act fast to avoid developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

If your blood sugar level is 15 mmol/l or more, you should check your blood or urine for ketones. If ketones are present, it is likely that you do not have enough insulin in your body. This means you may need to increase your dose or give yourself an extra dose. Talk to your diabetes team about how to do this if you are unsure.

You should also try to drink plenty of sugar-free fluids to prevent dehydration. And if you are feeling unwell, especially if you are vomiting, you should follow any ‘sick day rules’ you have been given and contact your diabetes healthcare team for advice.

If you regularly have high blood sugar levels

Having high blood sugar levels regularly is not something you should live with. This is because in the long-term it can increase your risk of developing diabetes complications, such as neuropathy and retinopathy.

If you notice that your blood sugar levels are often high, (above 10mmol) you should contact your diabetes healthcare team. They will review your treatment and provide you with advice on how to get your blood sugar levels back within your target range. This advice may include increasing your medication.

In the video below, Lynsey talks to Khalida about feeling anxious after getting a high blood sugar level reading. If you’re finding it hard to deal with similar feelings, we’ve got information on emotional health that you may find helpful.

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