If you just received a diabetes diagnosis, you may be wondering what blood sugar levels mean and how you should be creating goals based off of your blood glucose tracking. One of the most important things for you to know is what blood sugar levels are and when they’re considered to be high. Learning what steps to take if you find your levels are too high will help you stay safe.
Because diabetes is such an individual condition, the best first step is to consult your doctor about what is a healthy range for your blood sugar. Once you’ve gotten advice from your medical expert, you can begin to modify your lifestyle and continue to do additional research to improve your health and benefit your diabetes management journey. Before researching online, it’s important to remember that blood sugar levels are an individual, personal reaction to many factors, and can vary while still being within an acceptable range. Generalized numbers are often not a 100% accurate measure of personal health and there may be other factors that are affecting your blood sugar, resulting in confusing numbers when you check.
Make sure that you carefully follow the instructions your doctor has created for you. Diabetes can have negative effects if not managed properly. By understanding healthy blood sugar ranges, you can take steps to reduce or avoid added diabetes complications, and better understand what changes in blood sugar may be reflecting about your body’s health.
Let’s go over what high blood sugar looks like, some causes of high blood sugar and remedies to lower blood sugar levels.
High Blood Sugar Levels
Different targets have been set by various health organizations, but the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has stated that fasting blood sugar should be between 80-130mg/dL, and two hours after a meal it should be less than 180mg/dL.
Some people experience high blood sugar in the mornings for several common reasons, like the Dawn Phenomenon. Fasting blood sugar is important to note, as it can give an idea of where your blood sugar naturally settles after a period without intervention.
Blood sugar rises after a meal, and then comes back down (via natural insulin process or insulin injection). Postprandial blood sugar is where it lands at the end of the trend line, which is generally two hours after the meal. If blood sugar is 180 mg/dL two hours after a meal, it could mean mis-calculating carb intake. Knowing the range your doctor has identified as a healthy rise is important in being aware of your body’s processes. Any number above your specific ranges is considered to be high.
Glucose is needed by your body, but when it rises too high over an extended period of time, it can have lasting detrimental effects. It’s important that you regularly monitor your blood sugar levels so that you’re aware of how your body is responding to your diabetes care plan.
High blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, can have symptoms including fatigue, intense thirst, increased urination, stomach pain, heightened heart rate, and more. If your blood sugar spikes for a short period of time and then returns to a healthy range quickly, you most likely don’t need to worry about lasting effects of symptoms. However, if you have elevated blood sugar levels for a long time, it can wear down your body and cause problems. Additionally, if at any point you feel like you may faint or lose consciousness, seek medical attention immediately, as you may be at risk for a diabetic coma. Alert those you’re close to that if you ever lose consciousness, they should take the appropriate steps to get help.
Making healthy choices and developing a holistic lifestyle are some of the best things you can do to ensure your blood sugar levels remain in a healthy range. It is important to follow the plan that you’ve discussed with your healthcare provider to minimize the effects of your diabetes and take care of your body.
Causes of High Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can be caused by many different factors. It’s often difficult to narrow it down to just one cause as it can be a combination of a few different things.
Problems with Insulin
If you’re experiencing high blood sugar as an insulin user, inefficient insulin may be the reason why. If the insulin dosage isn’t correct, your body won’t be able to fully utilize its benefits. This is especially the case if the insulin dose has been miscalculated, especially in relation to the amount of carbs being consumed during a meal. Another issue is if the insulin is expired. You should never use any expired diabetes testing supplies or medication, as that can be incredibly dangerous.
Carbohydrates are the top culprit for a spike in blood sugar.. Too many carbs, especially in proportion to insulin dose, can cause blood sugar to elevate quickly. People with type 1 diabetes will need a correct insulin dose for the specific carb count, while those who are not insulin dependent, like most people with type 2 diabetes should tailor their carbohydrate intake to their specific body and diabetes treatment plan. Regardless of the type of diabetes an individual has, portion control is key. Understanding portions and nutritional value of foods can help you make healthy choices and plan meals.
If you’re sick, your blood sugar levels can become elevated. Especially with infections and high-stress illnesses, your body releases more glucose into your bloodstream as part of its immune response. Additionally, the hormones released can actually work against insulin’s efforts to regulate blood sugar, thus also being a cause of higher levels. One final important thing to know about sickness and diabetes has to do with the risk for ketoacidosis. In its most basic explanation, ketoacidosis occurs when hyperglycemia persists and the body produces toxic ketones. It produces ketones as a byproduct of using fat for fuel instead of sugar, which happens when blood sugar levels are too high to be managed by whatever amount of insulin (if any) the body is able to produce, which is why this is especially dangerous for individuals with type 1 diabetes who generally do not produce insulin at all.
Another thing that can cause high blood sugar levels is stress. Both physical and mental stress have the ability to affect blood sugar levels. Especially in situations that your body recognizes as a “fight or flight” scenario, blood sugar along with blood pressure and heart rate are all raised in efforts to prepare you to deal with the perceived threat. However, prolonged mental and emotional stress where your heart isn’t necessarily pumping can also cause higher blood sugar levels because the stress hormone cortisol actually works to produce more glucose (i.e. sugar) to try and help you deal with the stress.
Blood sugar levels can also be elevated in the morning. This is a fairly common occurrence as your body releases excess glucose stored in the liver in an effort to make sure you have enough glucose to use as energy by the time you wake up. Unfortunately, generally during this time, not enough insulin is produced to combat these higher levels, making for a higher blood glucose reading in the morning even though you haven’t eaten since dinner last night. You can read more about the Dawn Phenomenon and other causes of high morning blood sugar in our article here.
How to Lower Blood Sugar
It’s best to always talk to your doctor about what to do if a certain situation presents itself. For example, your doctor may recommend you take an additional dose of insulin to lower blood sugar. Make sure you’re aware of the dose that should be taken, as well as what level it should be taken at.
While lowering blood sugar for some requires taking insulin or other medication, there are some simple things that can be done to help get blood sugar moving in the right direction.
Drinking water is a simple, effective way to help lower blood sugar. It won’t get you all the way back to normal when your blood sugar level is very high, but it will usually help get it moving downward. When your body needs to get rid of extra glucose, it can dispose of it through urine. In order for this to happen, you need to be properly hydrated.
Additionally, exercising can serve as a long term proactive means of lowering average blood sugar. When you exercise, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin in your body and can pull sugar from the blood to use for energy. This is another effective way to lower your blood sugar levels naturally. Make sure that the exercise you’re doing isn’t too strenuous. Even going for a walk can be the exercise the body needs to use some of the excess glucose in the blood.
While these short-term solutions can be helpful, one of the most important parts of lowering blood sugar is long-term diabetes management. Check your blood sugar more often, and learn how to interpret and take action based on the results. Learning to trust your body and listen to what it’s telling you will continue to benefit you, even beyond diabetes management.
By learning how your body responds to high blood sugar, you can understand the ways in which your systems regulate and work to ensure your treatment is effective. Blood sugar levels can tell you many things, so remember to stop and listen.
Here are the most important things to remember:
Carefully reading all labels, as well as understanding how your body metabolizes certain compounds, will be incredibly beneficial in making dietary choices that will benefit you in the long term.
Problems with insulin, eating too many carbs, getting sick, being stressed, and even just sleeping can all cause a raise in your blood sugar levels, which speaks to the importance of making sure to log and record how your individual body reacts to different situations and factors.
Medications that treat high blood sugar can be incredibly effective and may be your best chance to successfully manage your diabetes.
Even if you’re taking medication, you should also be drinking water, exercising, and maintaining a diabetes-conscious diet in order to ensure your body is receiving all the benefits it needs.
Being aware of your own body’s responses to different foods and activities can help you plan ahead and be prepared for any changes in blood sugar. It’s also important to work with your care team to make sure all of your medications are appropriate and effective. Insulin dosage may need to be adjusted, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions.
Above all else, don’t worry--take a deep breath, know that there are others here with you on your diabetes care journey, and remember that you have tools available to help you along the way.
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