Doctors, nurses and clinicians alike, educate patients on the risks associated with poorly managed glucose levels, how to prevent sustained high blood sugar, and why for good reason. 

One of the primary concerns of health providers for people living with diabetes is the risks associated with prolonged high blood sugar and poorly managed glucose levels. This factor can be overwhelming, frustrating and daunting for patients if they are bombarded with additional unsolicited “advice,” comments, feedback and opinions concerning how to manage glucose levels from other people in their lives. A concerned family member or friend may want what is best for the patient, but may not know why or how to help. 

It is helpful to take a step back, practice patience and recognize that medical professionals and loved ones are coming from a place of kindness and genuine concern. Frustrations aside, sustained high blood sugar can be extremely dangerous and potentially life threatening. It is therefore important for people living with diabetes to understand the causes, risks, complications and potential side effects, as well as have a strong support network and know when to ask providers for help and guidance. Managing glucose levels is 100% doable with the right tools and it is not something that needs to be managed alone.

Potential Causes of High Blood Sugar

There are several potential reasons for blood sugar to increase, commonly it is a result of one of the following:

  • Insulin or oral glucose lowering medication doses are missed
  • Insulin dose is insufficient/amount is wrong
  • Insulin is not timed sufficiently in advance prior to consuming food
  • The body is fighting an infection or illness 
  • Anxiety/adrenaline/stress
  • Physical activity has decreased
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive grams of carbohydrates are consumed in a meal/snack
  • High protein/fat/sodium meals are consumed causing a delayed rise in glucose hours after food consumption (when active insulin on board has already dissipated)

How to Treat High Blood Sugar

It is important to recognize and treat high blood sugar symptoms as they occur, to help prevent future complications. Early symptoms may include increased thirst, frequent urination, headaches, difficulty concentrating, blurred vision or fatigue. Always check glucose levels before treating a high blood sugar to ensure you have the most accurate up-to-date information and can dose insulin accordingly. If high blood sugar symptoms occur, it is important to review the potential reasons why blood sugars may be high and get to the root cause. Knowing why it was caused and how to treat high blood sugar are crucial to help patients better understand their bodies’ needs, in order to achieve sustained successful glucose management in the long run. Before changing insulin dose amounts, always confirm this with a health care provider, and if glucose levels are continuously high and not coming down within a few hours, call your health provider and be sure to check your blood for ketones as this can be a potentially dangerous side effect. 

Potential Long Term Impacts of Sustained High Blood Sugar

Ongoing high blood sugars may have different symptoms that lead to serious long-term health complications. Below lists some of the common side effects of long-term or ongoing high blood sugars:

  • Painful, cold or a lack of sensations in the feet
  • Loss of hair on lower extremities
  • Stomach and gastrointestinal problems
  • Damage to kidneys
  • Skin and vaginal infections
  • Slow healing cuts and sores
  • Vision problems
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) – potentially life threatening if left untreated

How To Prevent Long Term Complications

Many routine tests completed by health care providers are looking for signs of ongoing high blood sugar. These include HbA1C, kidney functionality, examining the blood vessels in the eyes and checking for open sores/wounds and inspecting feet without shoes and socks. Having the routine checks every 3-6 months recommended by health care providers is essential to successful glucose management and to mitigate against long term complications. If a person living with diabetes waits until they experience sustained vision trouble, or until certain laboratory results are critical before getting blood sugar numbers under control, long term damage may have already occured. 

Here are top tips for keeping blood sugar levels in check every day:

  • Prioritize health and wellness 
  • Test blood sugar regularly (set timers on your phone as a reminder if needed)
  • Learn to recognize and treat high blood sugar quickly and safely
  • Take medication and insulin on time and on a schedule (via the treatment plan prescribed)
  • Tell a health care provider when experiencing repeated high blood sugar readings
  • Ask health care provider or diabetes educator for help, don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • Review laboratory results, know the numbers (ask for help to interpret and discuss)
  • Follow a healthy eating plan – know the amounts of carbohydrates in meals & snacks (measure and weigh foods whenever possible to keep portions in check)
  • Stay active with routine physical activity
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Avoid high sugar/highly processed foods and beverages
  • Wear a medical identification bracelet 
  • Get family members and loved ones involved for support and encouragement, and to help keep you accountable, motivated and on target

Doctors are not seeking perfection for their patients. They simply hope for patients to seek realistic, attainable and manageable goals that can be maintained and achieved consistently. One high blood sugar incident in isolation will not cause long term health problems or complications, so remember to take solace in the fact that occasionally high blood will occur. Correct it and move on. By adhering to a routine and developing healthy habits, maintaining in range glucose levels most of the time will ensure long term health and success.