Hyperglycaemia is the technical term for high blood glucose, and is the defining characteristic of diabetes. Before you were diagnosed with diabetes, you probably experienced some of the symptoms of hyperglycaemia, such as excessive thirst and frequent urination.
Even after you've started receiving treatment for diabetes, you may still experience episodes of hyperglycaemia from time to time. The most likely causes will be:
- Too much food
- Not enough insulin
- Loss of insulin potency
To catch episodes of hyperglycaemia early on and avoid further complications, it's important to recognise the warning signs and test your blood glucose as often as your doctor recommends. The short-term goal of treating hyperglycaemia is to prevent the onset of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This occurs when the body starts breaking down its own muscle, fat, and liver cells for fuel. This leads to dehydration and a build up of acids (ketones) in the blood. If left untreated, this can be fatal.
The long-term goal of treating hyperglycaemia is to avoid chronic health problems such as high blood glucose, eye problems, kidney disease, and nerve damage¹. Speak to your healthcare professional for guidance on what you should do if you experience hyperglycaemia.
Hypoglycaemia is the technical term for low blood glucose. When people are first diagnosed with diabetes, they sometimes find it hard to understand how low blood glucose can be a problem when diabetes is all about high blood glucose!
Try imagining your blood sugar as weights on a set of scales. If you start out with all the weight on one side (let's call it the 'high blood sugar' side), you'll want to balance things out by transferring some of that weight to the other side (the 'low blood sugar' side).
However, sometimes it's hard to control how much weight you shift, and you might end up over-doing it – the result being hypoglycaemia. This could be because of:
- Not enough food
- Too much insulin
- More exercise than usual
Unfortunately, you can't always avoid a low. For this reason, it's important to establish a routine to follow when your blood glucose drops. If you have a routine, you're sure to have something available to treat a low and less likely to over-treat and cause your blood glucose to go up too much.
Speak to your healthcare professional for guidance on what you should do if you experience hypoglycaemia.
Some people with diabetes don't know when their blood glucose is low because they don’t feel the usual symptoms – this is called 'hypoglycaemia unawareness'. If you suffer from hypoglycaemia unawareness, it's important to test your blood glucose more often. Everyone with diabetes should test before driving a car to ensure safety on the road.
1. The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) Research Group. The effect of intensive treatment of diabetes on the development and progression of long-term complications in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. NEJM. 1993;329(14):977-986.