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Hyperglycemia: Symptoms, causes and treatment

  • Hyperglycaemia is when the blood sugar level is 130 mg / dL before a meal or 180 mg / dL two hours after a meal.
  • Signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia include increased thirst, more frequent urination and blurred vision.
  • Hyperglycemia mainly occurs in people with diabetes, although it can also occur as a result of stress or steroid medication.
  • This article was reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family physician and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.
  • Visit the Insiders Health Reference Library for more advice.

Hyperglycemia is when you have high blood sugar. Before a meal or when you have not eaten for several hours, high blood sugar is defined as 1

30 mg / dL. Two hours after eating is hyperglycemia when the blood sugar level is above 180 mg / dL.

In comparison, normal blood sugar levels are generally between 80 mg / dL and 130 mg / dL. Hyperglycemia is most common in people with diabetes, and essentially describes the high blood sugar that defines the chronic condition.

In some cases, hyperglycemia may also occur as a result of stress or as a side effect of steroid medication. This is how you can recognize signs of high blood sugar and lower it quickly.

signs and symptoms

The most common symptoms of hyperglycemia include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Drink fluids more often
  • Urination more often
  • Blurry vision
  • Weight loss

However, the only way to know for sure if you have hyperglycemia is with blood draw, says Jordan Messler, MD, a hospitalist at the Morton Plant Hospitalist Group in Clearwater, Florida. This can confirm that your blood sugar level is elevated and how much. In fact, the symptoms often do not become severe until the blood sugar rises above 200 mg / dL.

If left untreated, in some cases hyperglycaemia can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) within 24 hours. This condition, most common in people with type 1 diabetes, occurs when the body is unable to properly break down sugar into fuel, so it breaks down fat instead, Messler says. This naturally releases acids in the blood, and because the body cannot flush the acid fast enough, it becomes toxic in the blood.

DKA is a medical emergency, and people with the following symptoms should visit the emergency room, especially if they have diabetes, Messler says:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Abdominal pains


Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause hyperglycemia. But there are also other potential causes, such as stress or steroid medication.


People with diabetes are not able to treat their blood sugar effectively, either because they do not produce insulin, the hormone that breaks down blood sugar (type 1), or because their body does not use insulin effectively (type 2).

Since the body cannot break down blood sugar, it builds up in the bloodstream and is more likely to cause high blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia.

Hyperglycemia can also occur occasionally in people being treated for diabetes. These spikes in blood sugar levels can be caused by:

  • Eating too much
  • Not training enough
  • Giving yourself too little insulin or medicine
  • The dawn phenomenon or an increase in hormones early in the morning that can increase blood sugar
  • Stress or illness


Even people without diabetes can get hyperglycemia. For example, stress can cause insulin resistance – a condition in which your body does not use insulin effectively.

At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol encourages the release of liver glucose or glucose stored in the liver, which further raises blood sugar. This so-called “stress hyperglycemia” can occur during acute medical situations, such as an infection or a heart attack, Messler says.


Steroids, such as prednisone and methylprednisolone, can also cause hyperglycemia in up to 46% of patients without diabetes, but this usually resolves when the medication is stopped.

Like the effects of stress, these drugs also increase the release of liver glucose and increase insulin resistance and can cause hyperglycemia even if you do not have diabetes.


The goal of treating hyperglycemia is to lower blood sugar. For people with diabetes, this may mean that you adjust your insulin dose or follow a plan that you and your doctor have made in advance when you experience hyperglycemia.

People who have chronic hyperglycemia caused by diabetes should also work to lower their blood sugar over time in addition to treating individual episodes of hyperglycemia.

“The best ways to start lowering blood sugar for someone with diabetes are through lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise,” says Messler.

People with type 1 diabetes need insulin to lower blood sugar levels, while type 2 diabetics are often treated with oral medications such as metformin and possibly insulin as well, Messler says.

However, for people with stress or steroid-induced hyperglycemia, the condition usually disappears on its own as soon as the stress disappears, or about four to six hours after the medication is discontinued.

If hyperglycemia persists after the underlying health condition is treated, the patient may be diagnosed with diabetes, Messler says.


Hyperglycemia is a serious condition, especially if left untreated. As it can only be diagnosed by measuring blood sugar, it is important to talk to your doctor if you are concerned about hyperglycaemia.

“If you suffer from symptoms of increased thirst and frequent urination with weight loss, discuss with your doctor and check your blood sugar,” Messler says.

He also recommends that people who have risk factors for diabetes – including obesity, have a family history of diabetes or are older than 45 – have their blood sugar levels checked regularly.

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