What does it feel like when your blood sugar is too high?

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Glucose is a vital energy source in living organisms. However, too much of it can be problematic.

In the human body, the consumption of certain foods containing carbohydrates converts into glucose, which then transports to the cells through the bloodstream. For the glucose to be put to good use, the body relies on a hormone known as insulin produced by an organ in the digestive system called the pancreas.

Among people who feel their blood sugar is too high often do so with accompanying symptoms. Too much sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream is a hallmark indicator of diabetes mellitus and can also be referred to as hyperglycemia. It is typically caused by the body’s inability to use or produce insulin.

In this discussion, we list five essential sets of facts you should know regarding high blood sugar.

1. What it feels like when you have high blood sugar

What are the symptoms associated with hyperglycemia and how to know if your blood sugar levels are too high?

If a person has abnormal levels of blood sugar, measuring more than 11.1 mmol/l (200 mg/dl), it is likely they will exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Bloating
  • Minor aches or pain
  • Poor wound healing
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Abnormal thirst and appetite
  • Numbness or tingling sensation

In rare cases, higher than normal blood sugar levels may lead to:

  • Seizures
  • Stupor
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Coma

A severe complication of high blood sugar is diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a lack of insulin, often triggered by improper insulin administration, infection, stroke, or the use of steroids. Procedures to diagnose this complication include testing for ketoacids, low blood pH, and high blood sugar in blood plasma or in the urine.

2. A brief history of high blood sugar

Theoretically speaking, diabetes mellitus may be traced back to civilizations from many regions of the world, thousands of years ago. In modern history, however, the condition was perhaps first described by an English physician called Thomas Willis, who prompted the notion that diabetes mellitus was a disease of the blood and not the kidneys.

Johann Peter Frank, a former instructor of clinical medicine at the University of Pavia, was a notable figure in many aspects of public health, having been credited for distinguishing diabetes mellitus from diabetes insipidus. Moreover, in 1889, two German physicians were the first to uncover the role of the pancreas in the causation of diabetes mellitus. One of them was regarded as an early pioneer in the discovery of barbiturates.

3. Epidemiology of high blood sugar

Over the last few decades, more Americans are meeting the criteria for obesity, increasing the incidence of hyperglycemia. In the U.S., there are close to 30 million people diagnosed with diabetes mellitus. That number is more than double among Americans with prediabetes, according to the CDC.

On a global scale, the number of patients with diabetes mellitus surged from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, according to the World Health Organization. More than 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes mellitus each year, the American Diabetes Association affirms.

The largest number of cases are reported in countries like Brazil, China, India, Russia, and the U.S. Lower socioeconomic status is associated with a higher prevalence of hyperglycemia.

4. The types of high blood sugar

Diabetes mellitus usually falls into one of either classification: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes share similar symptoms, although the first classification is the result of decreased insulin from a loss of beta cells, likely from an autoimmune response. Gestational diabetes, on the other hand, occurs among pregnant women with no past history of high blood sugar.

5. How to efficiently treat high blood sugar

For those who may be at risk of high blood sugar, measurements of blood plasma using a glucose monitor are necessary to assess and treat abnormalities.

For minor instances of hyperglycemia, directly administering insulin and also the implementation of a healthier lifestyle would efficiently treat most cases. Examples of lifestyle modification include dietary intervention, physical exercise, and the administration of treatments like metformin.

Metformin is a commonly used first-line drug intervention for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. First discovered in 1922, and then marketed in France in the late-1970s, the anti-diabetic medication received FDA approval in 1994. Its mechanism of action is not fully understood and is currently the subject of vigorous research.

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors, glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, meglitinides, sodium-glucose transporter 2 inhibitors, and thiazolidinediones, are other interventions used to stabilize abnormal levels of blood glucose.

Recent studies targeting new potential drug interventions for diabetes mellitus have shown more efficiency toward symptoms and may strengthen our understanding of the condition and significantly improve the lifestyle of those affected.

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