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Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia: What You Need to Know

Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia are dangerous conditions that affect millions of Americans each year. Know the signs, symptoms, and treatments for each.

1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. The disease has grown exponentially over the last six decades and remains the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. With statistics like these, coupled with growing media coverage on the detrimental effects of the standard North American diet on our health, sugar is getting a bad rap. And with good reason.

Sugar wreaks havoc on our health. Among its many adverse effects, it can cause our blood glucose levels to spike and plummet; it can interfere with immune function and increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease; it can accelerate aging and tooth decay; it can have adverse effects on behavior. In short, sugar is bad news. And the levels of sugar (or, more specifically, glucose) in our blood, play a direct role in our health.

Hypo vs. Hyper – your Greek lesson for the day

Glycemia is defined as the presence of glucose in the blood.

Hypo comes from the Greek word hupo, which translates as under or, more typically, less.

Hyper is also a holdover from the Greeks, from the Greek word huper, which translates as over or above.

So extending that logic, hypoglycemia is a low blood sugar level and hyperglycemia is a high blood sugar level.

Now that we have that sorted...

What do they mean?

Maintaining a consistent blood sugar level is a key component of optimal health. Here’s why:

When we eat sugar, our body creates a surge of the feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Immediately following, our pancreas kicks into gear producing insulin to absorb the excess glucose and help regulate our blood. Once the insulin has done its job, our blood sugar drops again, leaving us feeling cranky and drained.  Our body craves more sugar to give it a temporary boost and the cycle continues.

In the long run, the highs and lows of this sugar cycle, coupled with increased consumption of sweet treats can lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • Wrinkles
  • Tooth decay
  • Insulin resistance
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Chronic kidney disease

There’s no silver lining. Whether it’s low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), both are bad for your overall health.

Dealing with Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia occurs when there is not enough glucose in your blood. It usually comes on suddenly and can happen after strenuous exercise or when you’ve waited too long to eat. Strictly speaking, you’re considered hypoglycemic when your blood glucose levels are less than 70 mg/dl.

Symptoms

If you’re not carrying around a blood testing kit, here are some other symptoms that may indicate a hypoglycemic state:

  • Sweating
  • Shakiness, dizziness, weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid pulse
  • Irritability (if you’re “hangry” – ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’ – chances are your blood sugar is low)
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating

Risks

Your brain needs glucose to function properly, so left untreated, low levels of blood sugar can lead to severe confusion and disorientation, seizures, loss of consciousness, coma, even death. It’s imperative to treat symptoms quickly.

Here’s how:

Treatment

The first step in treatment is usually the consumption of a fast-acting carbohydrate, to supply sugar to the body and fast. This can be candy, fruit juice, a soft drink, or glucose tablets or gel. Protein should be avoided since it slows the body’s absorption of sugar and will interfere with a quick recovery.

After 15 minutes, recheck blood sugar levels and if they’re still under 70 mg/dL, treat with another 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate (e.g. 4 ounces of regular juice or soda, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons raisins, 7 Life Savers®). Repeat until blood sugar has risen above the 70 mg/dL mark.

In severe circumstances, if a person has become unconscious, someone else may have to administer a glucagon injection.

Long term, if you're prone to episodes of hypoglycemia, it’s important to treat the underlying cause. Consult with your doctor to find out what options are available to you.  

Dealing with Hyperglycemia

Unlike hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia (too much sugar in your blood) usually occurs slowly, over the course of several hours or days. It can be brought on by illness, infection, certain medications, too much food, not enough insulin or exercise, or plain old stress.

Symptoms

Due to its slow onset, recognizing hyperglycemia can be difficult. Symptoms may include:

  • Increased fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritability
  • Intense thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Involuntary weight loss
  • Excessive hunger

Risks

Left untreated, hyperglycemia can cause long-term complications, including problems in the extremities (hands and feet), bone and joint problems, nerve damage, blindness, kidney failure, and cardiovascular disease.

Treatment

Acute occurrences of hyperglycemia may require emergency treatment in the form of fluid and electrolyte replacement and/or insulin therapy. Long-term, your health care professional may recommend a combination of the following:

  • Regular exercise as a way to control blood sugar.
  • Medication as prescribed by a health care professional.
  • A healthy diet that reduces the amount of sugary foods and drinks and encourages the consumption of whole foods.
  • Regular blood sugar monitoring to ensure you’re in the optimal range.
  • Insulin regulation to supplement and/or adjust your insulin levels, helping to temporarily correct a high level of sugar in the blood.

If you suffer from hypo- or hyperglycemia, or any other complications of diabetes, and require medical equipment to help treat and alleviate symptoms, Wound Care Solutions can help. We offer a variety of equipment and products to keep you comfortable on your road back to health.