High Blood Sugar: Causes, Complications, and How to Lower Blood Sugar

Your body breaks down glucose for energy using the insulin produced by the pancreas. This is required for our bodies to function. Illness can have an impact on the way our pancreas functions. Read this to learn how high blood sugar can affect your health.

7 minute read

Last Updated September 22, 2021

High Blood Sugar: Causes, Complications, and How to Lower Blood Sugar

Your body requires energy to function, and this energy comes from food. Specifically, your body breaks down glucose for energy using the insulin produced by the pancreas. 

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause impairment to this breakdown of sugar in the body, causing blood glucose levels to become irregular. When glucose is not broken down into energy, it can build up in the bloodstream and then becomes a health problem. 

Your pancreas produces insulin, which breaks down glucose. With type 1 diabetes, the cells that produce insulin are mistakenly attacked by your immune system. As a result of this autoimmune condition, blood sugar levels can become dangerously high without intervention. 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body no longer responds to insulin as well as it should and then also causes glucose to accumulate in the blood.

What is High Blood Sugar?

Elevated blood sugar levels are known as hyperglycemia. Blood sugar levels are measured using a small sample of blood (typically pricked from the finger) that is tested in a lab. Blood sugar can also be tested using at home devices such as a handheld glucometer. Levels that indicate hyperglycemia are indicative of prediabetes and both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

Normal ranges of blood sugar will vary depending on the test being done. In general, a normal fasting (testing done early in the morning before breakfast is eaten) glucose level will be between 70-100 mg/dL. After a meal, these levels are expected to rise slightly around 1 to 2 hours after the beginning of a meal, but should be less than 180 ml/dL.

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is important not only for metabolic health, but heart health too. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. People with diabetes are also more likely to have other conditions that raise the risk for heart disease:

  • High blood pressure increases the force of blood through your arteries and can damage artery walls. Having both high blood pressure and diabetes can greatly increase your risk for heart disease.
  • Too much LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in your bloodstream can form plaque on damaged artery walls.

Causes of High Blood Sugar

The leading causes of high blood sugar or hyperglycemia include:

♦ Diet: Glucose comes from food, so what you are eating causes high blood sugar. Carbohydrates are the most common culprit as they are broken down into glucose very quickly in the body. High-sugar foods, high-fat foods, and processed foods also cause blood glucose spikes and should be replaced with healthier options.

♦ Stress: When you are stressed, more stress hormones and chemicals are released, which drives blood sugar levels up too. If the stress is only temporary, this is not a serious issue, but if you experience chronic stress or an anxiety disorder, you may experience high blood sugar levels more often. 

♦ Metabolic Syndrome: These are a collection of conditions that occur at the same time and increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. High blood pressures, excess fat around the waist, and high cholesterol or triglycerides are examples of these conditions. When these occur in the body together, your risk for diabetes increases as does your blood sugar and the risk for potential complications. 

♦ Physical Inactivity: A lack of physical activity contributes to elevated blood sugar. When you are physically active each day, insulin works more efficiently, and your blood sugar can be maintained. 

♦ Obesity: This is commonly associated with diabetes as a result of eating too many processed and high-sugar foods. Your risk for diabetes increases if you are overweight, so maintaining a healthy weight is important in preventing high blood sugar. You can also promote healthier blood glucose levels by losing weight. 

How Does High Blood Sugar Affect the Body?

Monitoring your blood sugar is essential if you have diabetes. Symptoms will get worse if treatment is not provided, and serious health complications can arise as a result. The signs of high blood sugar to look for include fatigue, blurred vision, and headaches along with:

  • Frequent urination and thirst: Excess sugar in the blood is passed through the kidneys and into urine. This draws more water into the urine which means more frequent urination. High glucose levels cause thirst even when you are drinking enough fluids.
  • Weight loss: Elevated blood sugar levels over time can lead to unexplained weight loss as a result of cells not getting the glucose they need. As a result, they start burning fat instead. 
  • Numbness: High blood sugar can cause tingling and numbness in the extremities. It is important to note that this is a complication of long-term diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugar levels.

Complications of High Blood Sugar

Diabetes is one of the main causes of high blood sugar levels, but there are other causes that can impact your blood glucose and your risk for hyperglycemia. 

Hyperglycemia is the medical term for high blood sugar levels. You can have temporary spikes in blood sugar after eating a large meal or as a result of medication side effects. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels are dangerous and common in those with diabetes. Without treatment, you run the risk of a diabetic coma.

Ketoacidosis is a condition that develops when elevated blood glucose levels go untreated. Without glucose to use for fuel, your body begins to burn fat instead and produces ketones. When there are too many ketones in the blood, it will turn acidic, which can very quickly lead to ketoacidosis, a diabetic coma, and even death. 

People without diabetes can develop a similar condition known as ketosis, but they can tolerate a certain level of ketones because inulin is still effectively working.

Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome is another serious complication of high blood sugar. This is more common among individuals with type 2 diabetes and is triggered by an infection or illness. 

As a result of the high blood sugar, your body tries to push out the excess glucose by passing it through your urine. Without treatment, this can result in life-threatening dehydration so prompt medical attention would be necessary.

Long-term Complications

Without correction, high blood sugar can interfere with healthy organ function over time. Blood vessels can become damaged which can lead to complications such as:

  • heart attack or stroke
  • damage to the eye and loss of vision
  • kidney disease or failure
  • nerve problems in the skin (especially in the feet, leading to slow-healing sores and infections)

Ways to Lower High Blood Sugar

With careful monitoring and control of your blood sugar levels, you can live a healthy life. There are a number of ways you can lower and prevent high blood sugar.

Learn to count carbohydrates: When you count carbs or keep track of what you are eating, you can control your blood sugar more efficiently. Set a maximum amount you can have each day for your meals and keep track to make sure you do not go past the limit. This helps to stabilize blood sugar and prevent dangerous spikes. Portion control is important too, so make sure your meals are not too large, as these can cause temporary spikes. 

Try meal planning: To help keep track of your carbohydrate intake, start planning your meals. Based on the amount of carbohydrates you can have, plan meals accordingly, so you do not risk going above the set limit. When your meals are planned, you also avoid eating out or getting convenience food, which contains more sugar and fat, and will negatively affect your blood sugar. 

Start a weight loss program: Obesity contributes to diabetes and impairs your body’s ability to process energy efficiently. Losing weight helps your body to use insulin more efficiently, and it reduces fat storage, which can trigger inflammation in the body. 

Learn the glycemic index: Not every carbohydrate is equal, so some are better for you than others with regards to glucose production. Knowing the glycemic index for foods and how they affect your blood sugar can help you plan meals effectively and stabilize blood sugar levels. 

Natural Treatment for High Blood Sugar

Preventing high blood pressure is key, however, there are natural treatment options available that could help to reduce your blood pressure. 

♦ Managing stress with meditation or deep-breathing exercises
♦ Quit smoking
♦ Starting an exercise routine
♦ Eating more food rich in calcium and magnesium

Eating foods rich in potassium can help 

In Addition to the options listed above, there are several natural supplements that may also help to lower blood pressure or prevent it from elevating, to begin with. 

♦ Berberine
♦ Fish Oil
♦ Garlic
♦ Hibiscus

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Diabetes is a chronic condition, and there is no cure. Diet and careful monitoring are the main factors in keeping your diabetes and blood sugar under control. 

With careful monitoring and following medical advice as well as a proper diet, you can maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Without intervention and treatment, there are serious complications to high blood sugar, and the result can be death.