What are high blood sugar levels?
In order to understand what classifies as high blood sugar levels, we must understand the normal levels first. These numbers are for people without diabetes. Normal blood sugar can be divided into three groups: fasting, before meals, and after meals. The normal fasting blood sugar level on awakening should be under 100 mg/dl. A before-meal blood sugar level is normal when it is between 70 and 99 mg/dl. Two hours after your meal, the blood sugar level should be less than 140 mg/dl. Now, just as there are two types of normal blood sugar levels (fastening and before a meal are almost the same), there are two types of high blood sugar.
Fasting hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is when your sugar is above 130 mg/dl on awakening, before meals, or after not eating or drinking anything for 8 hours.
Postprandial (after a meal) hyperglycemia is when your sugar levels are higher than 180 mg/dl two hours after your meal.
While one may have high blood sugar from time to time (for example, after a big, fatty meal), it is not normal to constantly have a high blood sugar level. Constant hyperglycemia can lead to damage to your blood vessels, damage to your organs, and damage to your nerves. Type 2 diabetes is a potentially deadly condition.
Signs of high blood sugar can be divided into two groups: mild high blood sugar symptoms and severe high blood sugar symptoms. Mild symptoms include increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, fatigue, increased appetite, dry mouth, and dry skin. Severe high blood sugar symptoms include blurred vision, extreme thirst, hot and dry skin, drowsiness, belly pain, weak pulse, fast heart rate, and fruity breath odor. We will explain all these signs one by one.
Medically called “polyuria,” excessive urination is one of the three main symptoms of high blood sugar (along with excessive thirst and hunger). Excessive urination happens as a chain reaction to the two other symptoms. It all starts in the blood, where, due to a high blood concentration, intracellular fluids are pulled into the bloodstream. Think of it as your body’s reaction to balance the concentration of glucose. Your body dilutes the blood, and the glucose concentration is brought to normal. However, this increases the volume of fluid in your blood. At the same time, your kidneys can’t work properly, and as a result, they discharge large amounts of urine.
So, your cells are pumping water into your bloodstream, and the only organ that can reabsorb that fluid—your kidneys—is not working properly. So, you have an urge to urinate. Now, excessive urination is classified as more than 2.5 quarts per day. This doesn’t apply to people who drink a lot of water (like bodybuilders when they need to remove fat from their body). The normal urine output is 1.5 quarts per day.
We mentioned that there is a chain reaction in your body, and that urination goes along with thirst and hunger. As you might assume, since your body is throwing away fluids, you need to replenish those fluids. If not, you’ll dehydrate. Thirst signals are triggered in your brain as soon as you start urinating more and more. People with diabetes often misunderstand and misinterpret the connection between urination and thirst. People think that urination is a result of thirst. In reality, it works the other way around. So, a common misconception is that you are urinating because you “drinking a lot of water lately.”
Excessive hunger is the third common and early sign of high blood sugar. But in reality, hunger is more of a result of a low insulin level. There are two types of low insulin levels. In type 1 diabetes, people experience an absolute shortage of insulin. Patients with type 2 diabetes experience a relative shortage of insulin.
In both cases, there is not enough insulin to move glucose molecules from your bloodstream to your cells. As a result, your body lacks energy and fuel for its processes, and the cells then send hunger signals to your brain via several hormones. It’s worth noting that your cells cannot understand that they are “starving in the land of plenty.” In reality, there is more than enough glucose in the bloodstream, but they can’t access it due to low insulin levels.
There are three reasons why you are losing weight, even though you are eating like crazy. The good news is that if you want to lose weight, you’ll actually do so. But joking aside, losing weight because of high blood sugar is not something you would like. Now, to the reasons.
The first reason why you lose weight is because of excessive urination. The result is a low level of fluids in the body, and you weigh less. It is exactly what happens when you get a diuretic, for example. Some people actually get a diuretic to weigh less.
The second reason is because of low insulin levels, and your body switches to burning fat more rapidly. The more fat you burn, the more weight you lose.
Third, and last, your urine is rich with glucose. Explained in the simplest way possible: you are actually peeing calories.
Slow healing of wounds and cuts
When your blood sugar levels are high, the skin’s healing processes are slowed down. Neutrophils, one of your body’s best tools to fight against diseases, are vulnerable to high blood sugar. Neutrophils are leukocytes that your body uses to fight injuries and infections. And when you have high blood sugar, the control system that signals your brain to send neutrophils to the injury is disrupted.
Another reason for the slow healing of wounds and cuts is the lack of oxygen. When your blood sugar levels are high, delivery of oxygen is reduced due to nerve damage and blood vessel disease. And if you ignore your high blood sugar levels, infections like cellulitis can result from diabetes complications.
Dry and itchy skin
I mentioned previously that you feel thirsty due to excessive urination. And that’s due to dehydration. For those who are a little more into skin care, hydration is essential for healthy skin. Excessive urination completely dehydrates your system to the point that skin tissues are drying out. But that’s not all. Because of high blood sugar, your body circulation is poor. And then there’s the nerve damage that interferes with the normal operation and functioning of the sweat glands, the skin’s natural moisturizers.
We talked about dehydration and cell starvation. Without oxygen, blood, and nutrients, your brain can’t function properly. Headaches occur and you have trouble concentrating, all because starving cells signal that they can’t access glucose in the bloodstream. One thing to consider: your brain devours almost one-quarter of the glucose you consume. And because your brain has difficulty accessing the fuel, your brain function is reduced. You can’t finish tasks like thinking, remembering, staying focused, or reasoning. And the eventual result is constant and painful headaches.
Anytime you feel dehydrated, fatigue and tiredness are normal side effects. Simply put, you can’t create energy. We all need a certain amount of energy to function properly throughout the day. And when you don’t produce enough energy, your body is slowly dying. To make matters worse, due to constant and excessive urination, you can’t sleep properly. The result is even less energy and feeling more tired than ever.
Another result of excessive urination is blurred vision. Your body tries to dilute the blood by pulling fluids from the cells, a process that occurs mostly through the cells of the eyes. And as the lens in the eyes dry out, they become temporarily warped. The end result is that your eyes lose their ability to focus properly. If you ignore the initial signs, chronic high blood sugar levels can lead to diseases like retinopathy, a damage to the back of the eye that can lead to blindness.
Chronic constipation or diarrhea
Constipation and diarrhea are positioned at opposite sides of the spectrum. But they are both caused by high blood sugar. It all depends on which section of the bowel the sugar affects. For example, when your sugar levels affect the small intestine, you get diarrhea. When the sugar levels affect the large intestine, on the other hand, you get constipation.
Some statistics show that men over 50 years old are extremely prone to erectile dysfunction. In fact, half of them suffer from the condition. A healthy erection requires healthy nerves and blood flow, as well as the right balance of hormones. Now, without getting too scientific, let’s just say that in order to get an erection, your body has to fulfill a number of hydraulic processes and events. The result is your penis is filled with blood, and you need even more processes to keep the blood trapped inside the penis. All of that is impossible with high blood sugar levels.
People with diabetes are known to be irritable (in some ways, like women with PMS). I don’t want to stereotype, but that’s the comparison even women use. The biological reasons for the mood swings are not well documented and understood, although there have been several theories to explain it. But people living with someone with diabetes are well aware of the mood changes and irritability.
What can you do?
All of the signs of high blood sugar have one goal in common: to signal you that you should start making changes in your lifestyle. Ignore the signs at your own peril; in the long run, high blood sugar levels cause permanent damage to your body, and it’s up to you to stop it.
They say the best way to cure a disease is to prevent it. If you notice the signs of high blood sugar, it might be time to make one of the following lifestyle changes:
Start exercising regularly, two or three times per week.
Control your carb intake (as I said, chocolate is not the only reason for high blood sugar).
Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated at all times.
Look for foods with a low glycemic index. Now might be the time to look at labels!
Increase your fiber intake to promote healthy digestion.
Last, but not least, control your stress levels. Stress eating is one of the biggest causes of high blood sugar.