What Is Dysglycemia?

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 21, 2023
5 min read

Blood sugar can impact the way we feel. We often say we're having a "sugar rush" after eating sweets. We may say we are "hangry" if we are cranky from not eating. Most of the time the body controls blood sugar well. But if you have frequent blood sugar swings, you may have a condition called dysglycemia. This may give you symptoms that make you feel tired, shaky, or confused. 

Dysglycemia refers to blood sugar levels that go too low or too high. Diabetes is the best-known condition involving dysglycemia. It's a very common disease and one that costs money and lives.

When we eat, carbohydrates break down into sugar molecules, including glucose. Glucose fuels our bodies, but it needs to get into the cells to do it. Insulin is a hormone that unlocks the cells so glucose can get in. When insulin doesn't work as it should, glucose will stay in the blood. This creates high blood sugar, known as hyperglycemia.

Blood sugar can also go too low. This is a condition known as hypoglycemia. This usually happens when you go too long without eating. It can also happen when those with diabetes take too much medication. A few other conditions can cause hypoglycemia, but they are relatively rare. Hyperglycemia and diabetes are much greater problems than hypoglycemia. 

Hyperglycemia doesn't cause symptoms immediately. After blood sugar has been high for days or weeks, you may have symptoms including:

‌As times goes by, you can have more serious symptoms, including:

Those with diabetes can prevent hyperglycemia by following their doctor's instructions about diet and medication. Once symptoms of hyperglycemia have appeared, it's important to see a doctor right away.

When blood sugar levels go too low, you may have:

These symptoms can progress to mental confusion, seizures, problems with vision, and loss of consciousness.

Hypoglycemia requires immediate action. Most of those with diabetes know to take a high-calorie drink or snack if they have symptoms of hypoglycemia. If this doesn't work, it's important to get medical help right away. If someone who doesn't have diabetes has these symptoms, quick treatment is also important.

Letting your blood sugar get too high has serious consequences. If your blood sugar is too high for too long, you may have:

Circulation problems. Diabetes keeps the blood vessels in your body from working properly. This can lead to heart attack and stroke. Poor blood supply can also lead to vision problems, kidney problems, and nerve damage. Hyperglycemia is a risk factor for these problems even if blood sugar is not high enough to be considered diabetes.

Mood problems. Balanced blood sugar is important for mood regulation. Those with diabetes have an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Reproductive issues. About one in six pregnant women worldwide have a form of dysglycemia. Blood sugar problems increase the risk of death for the mother and child. It also raises the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

Those with diabetes can avoid dysglycemia by following a few simple tips:

  • Test it. Set up a schedule for testing your blood sugar and stick to it.
  • Log it. Keep a written record of your blood sugar or use your meter or your phone to save your readings.
  • Watch for trends. Be aware of your blood sugar trends, and pay attention to when your levels go up or down.
  • Establish routines. Your blood sugar will be more stable if you have routines for eating and exercising.
  • Know your symptoms. Learn how you feel when your blood sugar is low and when it is high.

You have prediabetes if your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to trigger a diagnosis of diabetes. The risk factors for prediabetes and diabetes are the same.

Risk factors include:

Lifestyle factors. Being overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes, especially if your waist size is large. If you smoke, eat an unhealthy diet, or have an inactive lifestyle, your risk goes up. 

Demographic factors. If you are over 45, your diabetes risk goes up. Your risk is also greater if you have a close family member with diabetes. Although it's unknown exactly why, certain people – including those who are Black, Hispanic, Asian-American, or American Indian – are also at a higher risk for developing diabetes.

Related conditions. You have a greater chance of getting diabetes if you have sleep apnea, a condition in which you repeatedly stop breathing while sleeping. Women who had diabetes while pregnant ( gestational diabetes) are at an increased risk. So are women with a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome.

Because diabetes is a serious health issue, some public health agencies have programs designed to reduce it. In the United States, two agencies are working together to curb the risk of diabetes.

There are two different kinds of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes, as it's commonly diagnosed in children and younger adults. It can also be diagnosed in healthy adults, however. With type 1 diabetes, your immune system attacks your pancreas. It makes it so your body can't produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is called non insulin dependent or adult onset diabetes, but it can also be diagnosed in children. It is most often diagnosed in those who are overweight or obese.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) runs studies about preventing diabetes. In their first study, those at high risk of diabetes were assigned to a program of lifestyle change. A second at-risk group took the diabetes drug metformin as a preventative measure. 

After three years, participants in the lifestyle program lowered their risk of diabetes by 58%. Those in the metformin group lowered their risk by 31%.

The first study ended in 2001, but the NIDDK is still following program participants. Those in both groups continue to have lower rates of diabetes than those in a placebo group. The NIDDK is now investigating whether diabetes prevention can lower the participants' chances of developing cancer or heart disease

Building on work by the NIDDK, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) created the National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP). Beginning in 2010, the National DPP has offered a lifestyle change program for those at risk of developing diabetes. 

The National DPP lifestyle program focuses on healthy eating and physical activity. It offers a lifestyle coach and a support group for people with prediabetes. Some locations offer it free. Medicare also covers the program for people who are qualified.