What Is Hyperglycemia? - Definition & Symptoms

Instructor: Kara Jones
Hyperglycemia is a condition that commonly affects people with diabetes, but can also be a symptom of other conditions. Learn the definition and explore the most frequently seen physical symptoms.

Glucose, Insulin, and Energy

Hyperglycemia is a condition in which the amount of circulating glucose (or sugar) in the bloodstream is higher than normal. When food enters the digestive system, it is broken down into glucose and enters the bloodstream. This triggers a process that makes the pancreas secrete insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps pull glucose into the cells of the body, where it is converted into fuel and energy. In order for this to work, you have to eat. Remember all those days when you get so busy that mealtime is put on hold? You are potentially depriving your body of gas to make it though the day. Not good! The good news is that most of us have a functioning pancreas that 'knows' exactly how much insulin to secrete based on what we eat. Imagine insulin as a key, while the cell is a lock. Without the key, nothing gets in!

Problems with Insulin Production

When a person does not produce enough insulin, or if insulin is not used right away, this creates a buildup of glucose in the blood (hyperglycemia). Remember: with no key, all the glucose floats around aimlessly in the blood. This is dangerous because as you already know by now, no glucose is getting to the cells and organs. Without energy, many of the body processes slow down or may fail to work. The most common condition that causes hyperglycemia is diabetes. People with diabetes either don't produce insulin, or only make it in amounts that are insufficient to transport glucose to the cells. Diabetics normally have to take medicine to help the process along, and must also eat the right kinds of foods to keep sugar levels under control. When they forget to use medication, or if they eat foods high in glucose, their sugar levels go up. However, hyperglycemia can also be caused by infections, severe illness, certain medications, and even hormone imbalances. Pancreatic disorders can also cause hyperglycemia.

Measuring Blood Sugar

Blood sugar is usually checked by doing a simple finger stick (ouch!!) with a glucometer. These are portable devices that measure the amount of glucose in capillary blood (obtained from the spongy part of the ends of the fingers). The normal blood sugar level for a healthy adult is 70-110 mg/dl. Anything above this is considered elevated, but not all individuals have symptoms right away. Usually, blood levels are around 150- 200 mg/dl before physical signs are present.

Home Glucometer

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