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How the Blood Sugar of Diabetes Affects the Body

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Sugar Levels, Diabetes, and Prediabetes continued...

But diabetes is not like a switch that gets turned on and off -- healthy one day, diabetic the next. Any sugar levels higher than normal are unhealthy. A blood sugar higher than normal, but not meeting the above criteria for full-blown diabetes, is called prediabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 79 million people in the U.S. have prediabetes. People with prediabetes are five to six times more likely to develop diabetes over time. Prediabetes also increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, although not as much as diabetes does. It's possible to prevent the progression of prediabetes to diabetes, with diet and exercise.

Sugar and Your Body

Why are high blood sugar levels bad for you? Glucose is precious fuel for all the cells in your body -- when it's present at normal levels. But persistently high sugar levels behave like a slow-acting poison.

  1. High sugar levels slowly erode the ability of cells in the pancreas to make insulin. The pancreas overcompensates, though, and insulin levels remain overly high. Gradually, the pancreas is permanently damaged.
  2. All the excess sugar is modified in the blood. The elevated sugar in the blood causes changes that lead to atherosclerosis, a hardening of the blood vessels.

Because high sugar levels are everywhere, the body can be damaged anywhere. Damage to blood vessels, in particular, means no area is safe from too much sugar. High sugar levels and damaged blood vessels cause the multitude of complications that can come with diabetes:

  • Kidney disease or kidney failure, requiring dialysis
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Visual loss or blindness
  • Immune system suppression, with increased risk for infections
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Nerve damage, called neuropathy, causing tingling, pain or decreased sensation in the feet, legs, and hands
  • Poor circulation to the legs and feet, with poor wound healing

In extreme cases, because of the poor wound healing, amputation is required.

Keeping sugar levels closer to normal can prevent many of the complications of diabetes. The American Diabetes Association's goals for glucose control in people with diabetes are sugar levels of 70 to 130 mg/dL before meals, and less than 180 mg/dL after meals.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 03, 2014
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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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