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The Ups and Downs of Blood Sugar

By Annette Demeny

Slight fluctuations in blood sugar levels are completely normal and also happens on a daily basis in people that have diabetes and those who don’t. Between around 70 and 140 milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) is considered to be a healthy target range. Your target blood sugar range may differ, especially if you’re pregnant or you have other medical conditions. It may also change as you get older. Talk with your doctor to set your particular target range.

These fluctuations become dangerous when the blood sugar gets too low, called Hypoglycemia, or too high, called Hyperglycemia.

Let’s get to know the signs, symptoms, and treatments for each.

 

Hypoglycemia

 

Hypo comes from the Greek word hupo, which translates as under or, more typically, less. Glycemia is defined as the presence of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Hypoglycemia occurs when there is not enough glucose (sugar) in your blood. It usually comes on suddenly and can happen if ~ didn’t eat enough food, skipped a meal or waited too long to eat, were more active than usual (strenuous exercise), or took too much insulin (Type 1 diabetic) or too much diabetes medication (Type 2 diabetic). Typically, you’re considered hypoglycemic when your blood glucose levels are less than 70 mg/dl.

 

Symptoms
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness, dizziness, weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Fast Heartbeat
  • Blurry vision
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating

 

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

 

Treatment

 

The first step in treatment is to check your blood sugar and if it’s low, consume a fast-acting carbohydrate. You want to do this to get sugar into the body fast. This can be achieved by drinking fruit juice or soda, eating candy, honey, or glucose tablets. DO NOT eat protein because it slows the body’s absorption of the sugar.

 

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, 6-7 pieces of hard candy). Repeat until blood sugar has risen above the 70 mg/dL. If symptoms continue, call your healthcare provider.

 

In severe circumstances, if a person has become unconscious, call 911.

 

Hyperglycemia

 

Hyper is from the Greek word huper, which translates as over or above.

Hyperglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels are too high (too much sugar in your blood). People develop hyperglycemia if their diabetes is not treated properly. It can occur slowly, over several hours or even several days. This can be brought on by ~ consuming too much food (especially certain types of carbohydrates), not taking enough insulin or diabetes medication, lack of exercise or movement, illness and even stress.

 

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

Treatment

 

When your blood sugar level gets too high, the quickest way to reduce it is to take fast-acting insulin. Exercising is another fast, effective way to lower blood sugar.

 

In some cases of hyperglycemia, it may require emergency treatment at the hospital in lieu of handling it at home.

 

Long-term treatment may include a combination of the following ~

 

  • Regular exercise as an effective way to control blood sugar. If you suspect that your blood sugar is high, take a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Yoga is a good way to reduce stress as well.
  • Medication as prescribed by a health care professional. If you have frequent episodes of hyperglycemia, your doctor may need to adjust the dosage or timing of your medication.
  • 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.

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.

 

Hemoglobin A1C Test

 

An important test that determines how well you are managing your glucose levels is the Hemoglobin A1C blood test. It’s typically done twice a year to find out what your average blood sugar has been in the last 2-3 months.

An A1C level of 7% or less means that your treatment plan is working and that your blood sugar was consistently within the target range. If your A1C level is higher than 7%, your blood sugar, on average, was above the normal range. In this case, your doctor may recommend a change in your diabetes treatment plan.

 

SFY Sources

Jameson JL, et al., eds. Hypoglycemia. In: Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 20th ed. The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2018. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Jan. 9, 2020.

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes — 2020. Diabetes Care. 2020;43(suppl):s1. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/suppl/2019/12/20/43.Supplement_1.DC1. Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

 

What tips do you have to manage blood sugar? Tell us in the comments below…

 

 

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