May 17, 2021

Hyperglycemia in Diabetes | Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

For people with diabetes, hyperglycemia is usually linked to either insufficient insulin levels in the body or the body’s inability to use insulin like it should. Hyperglycemia is also known as high blood sugar and high blood glucose. Learn more

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Hyperglycemia in Diabetes | Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Home / Living with Diabetes / Hyperglycemia in Diabetes | Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

If you’re living with diabetes, hyperglycemia could very well be something you’re already dealing with. This condition’s name might sound intimidating, but what it describes is nothing unfamiliar for many people with diabetes – the term simply refers to abnormally high blood sugar levels. For people with diabetes, hyperglycemia is usually linked to either insufficient insulin levels in the body or the body’s inability to use insulin like it should. 

Of course, it’s important for people with diabetes to take steps to manage hyperglycemia if they are affected by it. If you don’t, you could suffer from anything from relatively minor symptoms to major complications like diabetic ketoacidosis. In this article, we’ll give you information on how to identify hyperglycemia and how to treat this condition. 

Causes of Hyperglycemia 

For diabetes patients, the cause of hyperglycemia can vary based on the type of diabetes they have. But in both Type 1 and Type II diabetes, this condition is linked to the sugar molecule known as glucose. While glucose is one of your body’s primary fuel sources, it cannot enter cells without assistance from insulin. The pancreas usually is responsible for secreting this hormone, but diabetes can affect the body’s ability to produce or use insulin properly.

People with Type I diabetes (in which a person’s pancreas produces no insulin or limited amounts of insulin) can experience high blood sugar levels if they haven’t given themselves a sufficient dose of insulin. Meanwhile, people with Type II diabetes (in which a person’s body produces insulin but has trouble using it) could have the insulin level they need, but aren’t able to use it correctly. 

A number of other factors can play a role in hyperglycemia development, as well. These include: 

  • Not taking diabetes medications
  • Taking too little meds
  • Taking medication at the wrong time
  • Eating too much
  • Not eating the right balance of food
  • Illness or infection
  • Trauma/stress (physical/emotional)

Dealing with stress or illness is precarious for people at risk of hyperglycemia. That is the case because the hormones responsible for fighting these conditions can also result in blood sugar rises – to the point where even people without diabetes may find themselves dealing with transient hyperglycemia. If you have diabetes, consider taking larger-than-average insulin doses when you feel sick or face significant stress.

Hyperglycemia Symptoms 

If you suspect you may be at risk for hyperglycemia, be aware that the symptoms associated with this condition can change over time. In this section, we’ll take a look at hyperglycemia signs and symptoms that tend to show up early on. 

  • Hungry
  • Tired
  • Frequent urination
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Thirsty
  • Blurred vision


Generally speaking, these symptoms won’t arrive out of the blue. Hyperglycemia symptoms tend to ramp up gradually.  Additionally, symptoms of hyperglycemia  appear at different glucose levels for different people.  

Treating a high blood sugar level: 

  • Test your blood sugar regularly
  • Take your medication as prescribed
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Follow your meal plan
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you continue to have high blood sugar
  • You may need a change in your medications/treatment
  • More careful meal planning
  • Increase exercise
  • More frequent blood testing and a plan to treat the results

Common Hyperglycemia Complications  

By keeping your blood sugar in range, you’ll reduce your risk of serious complications later in life. Some long-term complications linked to uncontrolled hyperglycemia are:

  • Oral infections
  • Problems with joints and bones
  • Foot problems (which can eventually lead to ulcerations, skin infections, or amputation)
  • Cataracts (“clouds” in the lenses of your eyes)
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Kidney failure or damage
  • Neuropathy
  • Heart disease

If left untreated , hyperglycemia can result in a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKAWhat is DKA?  

  • A complication of diabetes 
  • Severe rise in blood sugar (250 mg/dL or above)
  • Not enough insulin in the body
  • Can lead to dehydration, shock, and unconsciousness

When you experience DKA, toxic acids called “ketones” build up in your bloodstream (and, eventually, your urine), which can eventually lead to a life-threatening diabetic coma. Symptoms associated with diabetic ketoacidosis include: 

  • Nausea & vomiting 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Dehydration 
  • Fruity-smelling breath 
  • Dry skin or tongue 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Rapid pulse 
  • Labored breathing 

The symptoms of DKA are much like those of the flu. Before assuming you have the flu, check your blood glucose and check for ketones to rule out DKA.

Another serious hyperglycemia complication is called hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome (HHS). In this case, excess urination caused by hyperglycemia leads to the gradual development of severe dehydration over several days/weeks. These symptoms can help identify HHS: 

  • Hallucinations 
  • Weakness/paralysis (one side of the body may be worse than the other)
  • Fever in excess of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Extremely high blood sugar levels (more than 600 mg/dL)

Both diabetic ketoacidosis and HHS are considered emergency complications of hyperglycemia. If you notice symptoms associated with either condition, seek medical help immediately. 

Hyperglycemia Prevention Tips 

If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, you and your healthcare team may have already developed a diet plan for you. Following this plan can go a long way towards avoiding hyperglycemia, especially if you take insulin or oral medication for diabetes. 

Keeping a close eye on your blood glucose throughout the week/day will also help you steer clear of hyperglycemia. This process will allow you to keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels, making it possible for you to respond to changes shortly after they happen. 

Finally, physical activity is a great way to stay healthy – but if you’re planning to change your activity level, make sure your medication is adjusted accordingly. These adjustments will vary based on the type of activity you’re planning to do and your blood sugar levels. 

Treatment of Hyperglycemia 

One of the most effective ways to treat hyperglycemia is by making changes to your diet plan. By working with your healthcare team, you can safely cut down on the amount of food you eat, which can help blood sugar levels decrease. 

Exercise can also help people with diabetes lower their blood sugar levels. However, this comes with an important caveat: if you have a blood glucose level higher than 240 mg/dL, make sure to test your urine for ketones before exercising. When ketones are present in the body, physical activity can actually raise your blood sugar level.  If neither of these steps are effective, other changes may need to be made. You can contact your doctor to discuss the possibility of altering the amount of insulin/medication you take, along with your schedule for taking it. 


Hyperglycemia is important to take seriously, especially since it can lead to dangerous and even life-threatening conditions. By paying attention to your body and taking a few simple steps, however, you can either effectively treat your hyperglycemia or avoid this condition entirely. 

No matter where you are in your diabetes journey, US MED can help! Our high-quality blood glucose meters and continuous glucose monitoring systems can keep you aware of your glucose levels. And if you rely on insulin, our insulin pumps can make insulin delivery easier than ever. 

Cleveland Clinic
Mayo Clinic


Shirley DeLeon Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist

Medical Review by Shirley DeLeon, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

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