The human body naturally has sugar, or glucose, in the blood. The right amount of blood sugar gives the body’s cells and organs energy. The liver and muscles produce some blood sugar, but most of it comes from food and drinks that contain carbohydrates.
In order to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range, the body needs insulin. Insulin is a hormone that takes blood sugar and delivers it to the body’s cells.
If there is not enough insulin, or insulin doesn’t work properly, blood sugar builds up. High blood sugar levels can cause health problems.
Contents of this article:
- What does it feel like to have high blood sugar levels?
- Causes of high blood sugar
- What is a healthy blood sugar level?
- What does it feel like to have low blood sugar?
- When to see a doctor
What does it feel like to have high blood sugar levels?
In type 2 diabetes, the body can produce insulin but unable to use it properly.
Blood sugar is fuel for the body’s organs and functions. But having high blood sugar doesn’t provide a boost in energy. In fact, it’s often the opposite.
Because the body’s cells can’t access the blood sugar for energy, a person may feel tiredness, hunger, or exhaustion frequently.
In addition, high sugar in the blood goes into the kidneys and urine, which attracts more water, causing frequent urination. This can also lead to increased thirst, despite drinking enough liquids.
High blood sugar can cause sudden or unexplained weight loss. This occurs because the body’s cells aren’t getting the glucose they need, so the body burns muscle and fat for energy instead.
High blood sugar can also cause numbness, burning, or tingling in the hands, legs, and feet. This is caused by diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes that often occurs after many years of high blood sugar levels.
What does high blood sugar mean for the rest of the body?
Over time, the body’s organs and systems can be harmed by high blood sugar. Blood vessels become damaged, and this can lead to complications, including:
- Heart attack or stroke
- Damage to the eye and loss of vision
- Kidney disease or failure
- Nerve problems in the skin, especially the feet, leading to sores, infections, and wound healing problems
Causes of high blood sugar
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. As a result, the body lacks insulin and blood sugar levels rise. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin through a needle, pen, or insulin pump to keep blood sugar levels under control.
Only 5 percent of all people with diabetes have type 1, according to the American Diabetes Association.
With type 2 diabetes, the body does produce insulin but is unable to use it properly. The pancreas tries to make more insulin, but often cannot make enough to keep blood sugar levels under control. This is known as insulin resistance. People with type 2 diabetes may need to take insulin, pills, or make diet or exercise changes to help control blood sugar levels.
Many pregnant women develop insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This is known as gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes must be monitored by a woman’s obstetrician throughout her pregnancy, as it can lead to complications for mother and baby. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the woman gives birth.
A higher than normal blood sugar level is known as hyperglycemia. Although diabetes is the main cause, people who take beta blockers and certain steroids may also experience high blood sugar.
Risk factors for high blood sugar
The exact cause of type 1 or type 2 diabetes is not known. Some factors may make a person more likely to develop these conditions, however.
Researchers believe certain genetic or environmental factors may make people more likely to get type 1 diabetes. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases say certain genes play a role, and other factors such as viruses and infections may also be involved.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation say that there is nothing a person can do to prevent type 1 diabetes, and it is not related to eating, exercise, or other lifestyle choices. Type 1 diabetes usually begins during childhood or early adulthood.
Having high blood sugar can cause a person to feel frequently tired and exhausted.
Although no single factor has been identified, the following risk factors make a person more likely to develop type 2 diabetes:
- Having certain genes that are linked to diabetes
- Being overweight or inactive
- Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- Having African-American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian-American, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander ethnicity
- Being over the age of 45
- Being treated for high blood pressure, or having blood pressure of 140/90 or higher
- Having low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides
What is a healthy blood sugar level?
People who have high blood sugar should discuss their target levels with their doctor. Regular testing may be needed to find out if the patient is within a healthy range. Each individual is different and levels can vary from person to person.
To determine a person’s blood sugar levels, blood tests may be taken after not eating for 8 hours, 2 hours after a meal, or at both times. Some people may also take a glucose tolerance test, which requires the patient to drink a sugary liquid and get blood tests afterward.
The American Diabetes Association recommend a pre-meal blood sugar level of 80-130 milligrams per deciliter. Around 1 to 2 hours after the beginning of a meal, blood sugar should be less than 180 milligrams per deciliter.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) state that blood sugar should be below 110 milligrams per deciliter after fasting. Around 2 hours after eating a meal, the AACE recommend a blood sugar target of fewer than 180 milligrams per deciliter.
Controlling blood sugar levels
Many people with diabetes must check their blood sugar levels daily with a glucose meter. This device takes a drop of blood, usually from a finger, and displays the sugar level within a few seconds.
People with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin as directed, usually several times a day. Those with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes may need to change their diet and exercise habits. They may also need to take oral medications or insulin.
Blood sugar is only one part of a healthy lifestyle with diabetes. A person should also have their cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly to help avoid heart disease. In addition, people with diabetes should check their feet regularly for sores or other problems and should receive regular eye exams.
What does it feel like to have low blood sugar?
Low blood sugar is often a side effect of diabetes medicines. If a person takes too much insulin, the blood sugar may become too low. Low blood sugar can also be caused by certain medications, health conditions, or skipping meals.
People with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes may need to change their diet and exercise habits.
Symptoms of low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, may include:
- Feeling weak or shaky
- Sudden nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
- Sweating or chills
- Extreme hunger
- Fast heart rate, or palpitations
Low blood sugar can often be corrected by drinking a beverage that contains carbohydrates. Frequent episodes of low blood sugar should be discussed with a doctor. Diabetes medications may need to be changed or reduced in order to correct the problem.
When to see a doctor
Symptoms such as tiredness, increased thirst, frequent urination, or weight loss should be discussed with a doctor. These could be signs of diabetes or other health problems.
Most checkups will involve blood sugar testing, even if the person has no symptoms. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that adults age 40 to 70 who are overweight should be tested for diabetes. Those who have a family history of diabetes or who have other risk factors may need earlier or more frequent tests.
A person’s health and well-being depend upon proper management of blood sugar levels. Regular visits to the doctor and following diet, exercise, and medication guidelines can help control blood sugar for a better quality of life.