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Diabetes-Related High and Low Blood Sugar Levels - Topic Overview

High blood sugar usually develops slowly over a period of hours to days. But missing a dose of insulin can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels just above your target range may make you feel tired and thirsty. If your blood sugar level stays higher than normal for weeks, your body will adjust to that level, and you may not have as many symptoms of high blood sugar.

Unless you don't monitor your blood sugar regularly or you don't notice the symptoms of high blood sugar, you usually will have time to treat high blood sugar so that you can prevent high blood sugar emergencies. Three things can help you prevent high blood sugar problems:

  • Test your blood sugar often, especially if you are sick or are not following your normal routine. You can see when your blood sugar is above your target range, even if you don't have symptoms of high blood sugar such as increased thirst, increased urination, and fatigue. Then you can treat it early, preventing an emergency.
  • Call your doctor if you have frequent high blood sugar levels or if your blood sugar level is consistently staying above your target range. Your medicine may need to be adjusted or changed.
  • Drink extra water or noncaffeinated, non-sugared drinks so you will not be dehydrated. If your blood sugar continues to rise, your kidneys will increase the amount of urine produced, and you can become dehydrated.

Complications of high blood sugar can cause serious problems, including coma and death. Over time, high blood sugar can damage your eyes, heart, kidneys, blood vessels, and nerves.

Low blood sugar occurs when the sugar (glucose) level in your blood drops below what your body needs. Not eating enough food or skipping meals, taking too much medicine (insulin or pills), exercising more than usual, or taking certain medicines that lower blood sugar can cause your blood sugar to drop rapidly. Do not drink alcohol if you have problems recognizing the early signs of low blood sugar.

People who lose weight or develop kidney problems may not need as much insulin or other medicines as they did before they lost the weight or developed kidney problems. Their blood sugar may drop too low. Be sure to check your blood sugar often when your body goes through changes.

When your blood sugar level drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), you will usually have symptoms of low blood sugar. This can develop quickly, in 10 to 15 minutes.

  • If your blood sugar level drops just slightly below your target range (mild low blood sugar), you may feel tired, anxious, weak, shaky, or sweaty, and you may have a rapid heart rate. If you eat something that contains sugar, these symptoms may last only a short time. If you have diabetes, you may not always notice symptoms of mild low blood sugar. This is called hypoglycemia unawareness. If your blood sugar is well controlled and does not change much during the day, you may have an increased risk for hypoglycemic unawareness.
  • If your blood sugar level continues to drop (usually below 40 mg/dL), your behavior may change, and you may feel more irritable. You may become too weak or confused to eat something with sugar to raise your blood sugar level. Anytime your blood sugar drops below 50 mg/dL, you should act whether you have symptoms or not.
  • If your blood sugar level drops very low (usually below 20 mg/dL), you may lose consciousness or have a seizure. If you have symptoms of severe low blood sugar, you need medical care immediately.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 15, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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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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