Diabetes vs. Hyperglycemia

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Sometimes the terms diabetes and hyperglycemia are used interchangeably, but the diseases have key aspects that make them different from one another. Read this lesson to learn what sets them apart.

It's Easy to Confuse Hyperglycemia with Diabetes

Daryl is a diabetes health educator who works with many different community populations. He provides seminars, creates brochures, and presents at the local hospital to target the rising issue of hyperglycemia and diabetes. At his last education session, Daryl was working with a group of newly diagnosed diabetics. Even though these individuals have spent a lot of time with healthcare providers to manage their condition, they were still confused about the difference between hyperglycemia and diabetes.

Daryl realizes that these two terms are often used synonymously, which contributes to his audience's confusion about what the terms mean and how are they differentiated from one another. As Daryl works to prepare for his next education session, he decides to first define hyperglycemia, then diabetes, and finally explain how they relate to each other. Let's follow along.

What Is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia is the over abundant presence of sugar in the blood stream. This sugar, also known as blood glucose, is transported into the cells of the body with the use of the pancreas-produced hormone insulin. Once the glucose is transported into the cells, it can be converted into energy for people to carry out their tasks of daily living.

Hyperglycemia occurs in some normal individuals after eating, and can even occur indirectly through high levels of stress and physical trauma or sickness. While it is important for there to be some sugar in the blood, levels must return to normal for a person to remain healthy.


Diabetes is a disease process characterized by a person's inability to produce insulin or their lack of sensitivity to the insulin hormone. Due to the body's inability to effectively use insulin to carry glucose from the blood into the cells, someone with diabetes can experience high blood sugar levels over long periods of time. Daryl explains that there are different types of diabetic disorders to characterize the physiological (biological) issue for the individual:

  • Type 1: Usually diagnosed in children, Type 1 diabetes refers to the individual's ability to only produce small amounts of insulin, if any. Type 1 diabetics are dependent on supplemental insulin to help convert blood sugar into energy they can actually use. Their pancreatic cells have been attacked by their own immune system making them ineffective and unable to produce insulin.
  • Type 2: The most common form of diabetes, Type 2 diabetics may be able to produce insulin but do not produce enough or aren't able to use it effectively.

Bringing It All Together

Measuring this sugar, also known as blood glucose, is used as a measurement over time to indicate whether or not a person may have diabetes. So, as Daryl explains to his group, hyperglycemia over a long period of time may indicate the disease of diabetes.

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