High Blood Sugar: Causes Complications And How To Lower Blood Sugar
Your body breaks down glucose for energy using the insulin produced by the pancreas. This is required for our bodies to function. Illness can have an impact on the way our pancreas functions. Read this to learn how high blood sugar can affect your health.
7 minute read
Your body requires energy to function, and this energy comes from food. Specifically, your body breaks down glucose for energy using the insulin produced by the pancreas.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause impairment to this breakdown of sugar in the body, causing blood glucose levels to become irregular. When glucose is not broken down into energy, it can build up in the bloodstream and then becomes a health problem.
Your pancreas produces insulin, which breaks down glucose. With type 1 diabetes, the cells that produce insulin are mistakenly attacked by your immune system. As a result of this autoimmune condition, blood sugar levels can become dangerously high without intervention.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body no longer responds to insulin as well as it should and then also causes glucose to accumulate in the blood.
I Feel Fine So I Dont Need To Test My Levels
Zanini points out that having high blood glucose can come as a surprise to anyone. âIt’s possible they didn’t notice any symptoms or were simply feeling ‘more tired than usual,ââ she says. âIt’s easy to attribute being tired to many other things. . .so this is why regular physicals with your healthcare provider are important.â The bottom line? Listen to your body, take note of symptoms as they arise, and consider monitoring your continuous glucose values.
How Does Your Body Manage Blood Sugar At Night
âYour body uses different types of energy in different ways at different times of day,â says Paul.
At night, your body uses less glucose because you are inactive. Instead, it burns more fat for energy, but it still needs glucose for vital bodily functions.
âYour brain relies almost exclusively on glucose for energy and still needs plenty of it even when youâre asleep,â explains Paul. âSo itâs very important to have a constant supply of glucose overnight.â
To ensure this happens, the body uses various biological feedback mechanisms, including hormones like insulin, which encourage your cells to remove sugar from your blood after you eat.
There is also glucagon, which tells your liver to produce more glucose from fat and other sources if your blood sugar is dipping.
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Strike The Spike Ii: How To Manage High Blood Glucose After Meals
Dealing With High Blood Sugar After Meals
Several years ago, I wrote an article for Diabetes Self-Management about the management of high blood glucose after meals. It was called Strike the Spike and no article Ive ever written has led to greater reader response. To this day, I still receive calls and e-mails thanking me for offering practical answers to this perplexing challenge. Ive even been asked to speak on the topic at some major conferences. So when presented with the opportunity to readdress the issue, I jumped at the chance.
A lot has changed in recent years: we know more than ever about the harmful effects of after-meal blood sugar spikes, but we also have a number of potent new tools and techniques for preventing them. And now that I know how meaningful this topic is to so many people, Ill do my absolute best to provide some answers.
How To Stabilize Your Blood Sugar Overnight
The most important thing you can do to stabilize your blood sugar is monitor your glucose levels at bedtime, during the night, and when you wake up to look for patterns. This will help you determine whats going on in your body and how you can fix it. While there are many strategies people use to stabilize blood sugar at night, every person is different youll have to look for trends in your body, experiment with ways to lower glucose levels over a period of time, and learn what works best for your body.
Check your blood sugar before bed. If its already high, your blood sugar levels may remain high throughout the night. To address this, youll want to start by adjusting when you eat your evening meal and what it consists of, and how much mealtime insulin you take to cover it.
Avoid eating lots of food close to bedtime. For diaTribe writer Adam Brown, the key to staying in range overnight is low-carb, early dinners, with no snacking after dinner.
Consider eating less food at night and taking more basal insulin to cover your evening meal.
Check your blood sugar during the night, between midnight and 3am. If you were in range before bed but have high glucose levels between midnight and 3am, you may need to adjust your basal insulin dosage and timing. If you are low during that time, you may experience a rebound high blood sugar later on this is usually associated with overcorrecting the low.
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Don’t Sit On The Couch Or Lie Down Right After A Meal
While you may want to plop on the couch and turn on the television after a long day of work and a satisfying meal, you should resist the urge to become sedentary.
“Sitting on the couch or laying down after a meal will likely make blood sugar worse because you are sedentary and your muscles aren’t burning off the extra glucose in your bloodstream,” Harris-Pincus explains.
Plus, it is a common GERD trigger, so be wary if you are prone to indigestion after eating a meal, especially one containing trigger foods, like acidic tomato sauce on pizza or pasta, for example. Wait a bit before nestling under the covers.
What Causes High Blood Sugar Levels In The Morning
Commonly known reasons why your blood sugar may be high in the morning include high-carb bedtime snacks and not enough diabetes medications.
Yet two lesser-known reasons may be causing your morning blood sugar woes: the dawn phenomenon and the Somogyi effect. These causes of high morning blood sugar levels are a result of body changes and reactions that happen while you are sleeping.
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Eat The Majority Of Your Calories Early In The Day
Dinner may be thought of as the biggest meal of the day, but if you have elevated blood sugar, you should stop thinking of things that way. And don’t “save” your calories for a big meal either.
“Eating more of your calories earlier in the day can improve blood sugar levels since our bodies follow a circadian rhythm where we process food better during daylight hours,” Harris-Pincus explains. “People who eat a larger breakfast and lunch with a smaller dinner have been shown to improve blood sugar more than people consuming the same amount of calories but during evening hours.”
Plus, when you jam everything in later in the evening at dinner, especially if you eat dinner close to bedtime, your belly might feel too full, and GI distress could prevent you from falling asleep comfortably.
So How Did Your Blood Sugar Spike So Much
If glucose builds up in your bloodstream, it can cause your blood sugar to spike. This happens when your insulin cant keep up with the sugar overload.
Blood sugar spikes can also be the result of insulin production being out of whack in the first place, which is why people who have diabetes often experience them.
Glucose and insulin work hand in hand to keep you healthy. Almost any time you eat something, its broken down into glucose, which enters your cells to become fuel your body needs to keep running smoothly.
Insulin is supposed to help deliver glucose to your cells. But heres the thing: if you have diabetes, your body doesnt use insulin effectively and doesnt produce enough insulin, so glucose cant get into your cells.
When that happens, the glucose hangs out in your bloodstream, building up to dangerously high levels.
The scary thing is that blood sugar spikes dont just feel uncomfortable they can also lead to serious long-term damage. If high blood sugar is a chronic issue and goes untreated, it can cause heart disease, nerve damage, vision problems, and kidney failure.
If you ignore high blood sugar for a long time, your cells start to use fat instead of glucose for fuel, which produces ketones. If you dont have diabetes, this usually isnt an issue. But if you do, your blood becomes too acidic, which can lead to diabetic coma or death.
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Surprising Things That Can Spike Your Blood Sugar
When you first found out you had diabetes, you tested your blood sugar often to understand how food, activity, stress, and illness could affect your blood sugar levels. By now, youve got it figured out for the most part. But thenbam! Something makes your blood sugar zoom up. You try to adjust it with food or activity or insulin, and it dips really low. Youre on a rollercoaster no one with diabetes wants to ride.
Do you know all of these blood sugar triggers?
Knowledge is power! Look out for these surprising triggers that can send your blood sugar soaring:
Causes Related To Personal Health
This condition occurs when the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver are unable to use the glucose in your bloodstream for energy. Your pancreas responds to this increase in glucose by producing more insulin to help your body process it. This excess amount of insulin in the bloodstream can eventually cause your body to lose insulin sensitivity or build resistance to it, leading to higher blood glucose levels.
Bodyweight and body fat
Research connects being overweight and having a higher body fat percentage with high blood glucose levels. In fact, a high body fat percentage might be a clearer indicator of high blood sugar and diabetes than weight or body mass index .
Other health conditions
Certain conditions could make you more likely to have high blood glucose. These include Cushingâs disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome , and gestational diabetes. Blood glucose may also rise as the result of common illnesses like a head cold or the flu.
It isnât just stress and sleep that can cause fluctuations in hormones. Illness, physical pain and trauma, menopause or menstruation can as well. In any of these instances, your blood glucose levels may rise due to the changes in your hormone levels.
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What Is High Blood Glucose
To fully understand your blood glucose levels, itâs important to know: a) what values are actually considered high, and b) factors that can cause your elevated reading in the first place.
High blood glucose, also known as hyperglycemia, occurs when there is too much sugar in the bloodstream. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is the result of too little glucose in the bloodstream. Hyperglycemia usually occurs because your body doesnât produce enough insulin or canât properly use the available insulin to remove the glucose from the bloodstream.
Using milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood for measurement, high blood glucose readings after a meal indicating prediabetes can fall between 140 and 199 mg/dL. Levels reaching 200 mg/dL two hours after eating indicate you may already be insulin resistant or diabetic, though that diagnosis will need to come from your doctor. By comparison, the typical standard for normal glucose readings is to remain under 140 mg/dL throughout the day and under 100 mg/dL after eight hours of fasting.
A range of lifestyle factors, habits, and health conditions can cause high blood sugar. To debunk common hyperglycemia myths, review causes and symptoms, and discuss the best ways to address them, we spoke with two experts on high blood sugar levels: registered dietitian and For The Love of Diabetes creator Lori Zanini and registered dietitian nutritionist and diabetes management expert .
Complications Of High Blood Sugar
Diabetes is one of the main causes of high blood sugar levels, but there are other causes that can impact your blood glucose and your risk for hyperglycemia.
Hyperglycemia is the medical term for high blood sugar levels. You can have temporary spikes in blood sugar after eating a large meal or as a result of medication side effects. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels are dangerous and common in those with diabetes. Without treatment, you run the risk of a diabetic coma.
Ketoacidosis is a condition that develops when elevated blood glucose levels go untreated. Without glucose to use for fuel, your body begins to burn fat instead and produces ketones. When there are too many ketones in the blood, it will turn acidic, which can very quickly lead to ketoacidosis, a diabetic coma, and even death.
People without diabetes can develop a similar condition known as ketosis, but they can tolerate a certain level of ketones because inulin is still effectively working.
Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome is another serious complication of high blood sugar. This is more common among individuals with type 2 diabetes and is triggered by an infection or illness.
As a result of the high blood sugar, your body tries to push out the excess glucose by passing it through your urine. Without treatment, this can result in life-threatening dehydration so prompt medical attention would be necessary.
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Fruit Which Can Send Blood Sugar Soaring When Overeaten
Yes, its true that fruit can spike blood sugar levels, but thats no reason to strip it from your diet entirely. After all, fruit is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, all of which are great for your health and management of type 2 diabetes, Thomas says.
Your approach: Make sure that you count any fruit consumed as a carb, with one tennis-ball-sized piece of fruit counting as one serving, she says. Opt for whole fresh or frozen options when possible because theyre unprocessed and dont come with the addition of any sugars. If you prefer canned, make sure the fruit is packed in water, not sugary syrup. Last, even if you do manage to find dried fruits that dont contain added sugar, know they will still drastically spike your blood sugar. Thats because these fruits have been dehydrated, meaning they contain just as much sugar as a whole fruit, but in a single bite, she says. For example, according to the USDA, while a whole apricot has just over 3 g of sugar, only 2 tbsp of dried apricots has that same amount.
Blood Sugar Spike Symptoms
Learning to recognize the symptoms of hyperglycemia can help you keep your diabetes in control. Some people with diabetes immediately feel the symptoms of high blood sugar, but others go undiagnosed for years because their symptoms are mild or vague.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia typically begin when your blood glucose goes above 250 milligrams per deciliter . Symptoms get worse the longer you go untreated.
Symptoms of a blood sugar spike include:
- frequent urination
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Medical Approaches To Spike Control
A common approach to lowering after-meal blood glucose spikes is to take more insulin. But unless blood glucose levels remain high for three to six hours after eating, taking more insulin is not going to solve the problem. In fact, increasing mealtime insulin will most likely result in low blood glucose before the next meal.
Here are some strategies that may work better:
If You Wear A Blood Sugar Monitor As Part Of Your Zoe Test Sometimes You Might Notice Changes In Your Blood Sugar That You Dont Expect
Earlier this month, one of our early customers reached out to ask us: âI noticed that my blood sugar spiked just before I woke up. Why did this happen?â
We talked to our blood sugar expert, Professor Paul Franks from Lund University, about the connection between your metabolism and your body clock and find out why some people might notice changes in blood sugar that arenât caused by eating.
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Blame It On The Cornflakes
In getting at the subtleties of spiking, Snyder conducted a sub-study in which 30 participants using the continuous glucose monitor alternated between three breakfasts: a bowl of cornflakes with milk, a peanut butter sandwich and a protein bar.
The trio of tests yielded some fairly startling results: After eating one or more of the meals, more than half of the group whose prior blood sugar tests showed that they were healthy spiked at the same levels as those of people who were prediabetic or diabetic.
Whats more, nearly everyone spiked after eating the cereal.
We saw that 80 percent of our participants spiked after eating a bowl of cornflakes and milk, Snyder said. Make of that what you will, but my own personal belief is its probably not such a great thing for everyone to be eating.
Still, the variables that elicit spikes in an individual genetics the population of microbes that live in our bodies and epigenetics, or changes to gene expression are critical to understanding glucose dysregulation and the foods that cause glucose spikes. Those parameters are not set in stone, which is why Snyder encourages everyone including those who think of themselves as healthy to check their blood sugar with continuous glucose monitoring about once a year.
The work is an example of Stanford Medicines focus on precision health, the goal of which is to anticipate and prevent disease in the healthy and precisely diagnose and treat disease in the ill.