World Diabetes Day lands perfectly between a holiday devoted to begging for candy and a holiday celebrating food. It really couldn’t come at a better time. People with diabetes everywhere need a reminder to watch their sugar intake and not get carried away by the season of pumpkin-flavored everything!
I’ve discussed the complex condition of diabetes with you on a scientific level, but for the sake of this blog, let’s break it down into a “bite-sized” bit. I want to talk about how diabetes affects explicitly your blood sugar and, in turn, how high blood sugar levels affect your health.
Diabetes and Blood Sugar
Diabetes is often categorized as a blood sugar disorder, which means more sugar in the blood than your body can utilize. If you have diabetes, you already know how important regularly testing your blood sugar is in managing your disease.
You may have high blood sugar levels if you recently consumed a sweet meal and haven’t yet converted sugar molecules called glucose into energy. Or your blood sugar levels are high because your body doesn’t have enough of the hormone insulin. Insulin helps the hard-working cells in your liver and muscle tissue get the glucose they need.
People with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin or don’t make any insulin. In this case, the cells that need insulin for glucose uptake (like liver and muscle cells) don’t have the energy to function correctly. Glucose is left floating in the blood in the meantime. High glucose levels can build up, eventually causing damage.
Complications of High Blood Sugar
Excess glucose in the blood can result in a condition called hyperglycemia. In diabetics, hyperglycemia can happen for several reasons. A common cause is not giving yourself enough insulin. However, sometimes the issue is that the insulin shot you gave yourself was ineffective. Other times, hyperglycemia means you ate more than you should have or did not exercise enough to utilize the glucose you digest. High blood sugar may even suggest you are stressed or suffering from an illness like a cold. Symptoms of hyperglycemia include thirst, fatigue, frequent trips to urinate, and high sugar levels in your urine. These symptoms don’t sound so scary. But left untreated, hyperglycemia leads to some severe complications.
The build-up of glucose in your blood can cause damage to your blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular disease. If the damaged vessels are adjacent to nerves, they can push or pinch them. When this happens, you may experience nerve damage, called neuropathy. Damaged blood vessels supplying your eyes can lead to blindness. Damaged nerves and poor circulation can cause severe problems in your limbs and joints. Even your skin, teeth, and gums can be at risk. Because your kidneys’ job is to filter unwanted substances (like excess glucose) from your blood, hyperglycemia can affect your kidney function and result in kidney failure.
Ketoacidosis is the most severe complication of hyperglycemia. Without glucose for energy, your body will break down its fat cells. Some of the products from the broken-down fat cells are called ketones. Ketones that build up in your blood can result in ketoacidosis, which can cause a life-threatening diabetic coma.
How to Manage High Blood Sugar
The good news is that with frequent testing of your blood sugar levels, you can manage your diabetes. It does not mean you should go ahead and finish off the leftover Halloween candy in one sitting! It does mean that you can take control of your health by testing your blood sugar regularly (both before and after meals), logging your results, and recognizing warning signs or symptoms of high blood sugar.
Monitoring blood sugar is often recommended as a primary tool in controlling your diabetes. Still, you should record your test results and look for patterns to get the most out of testing. Are your levels too high or too low several days in a row? The mood is affected by blood sugar levels, so pay attention to your feelings since they could indicate how well you are managing your diabetes. With diligent testing and logging your results and mood, you can make a plan to control your diabetes better.